We know perfectly well Christmas iis not about Santa Claus. But that endearing character can become a bit of a burden when he begins to obscure the reality of the mystery of Christmas. And so Christian parents can wonder what to do about him: what role should Santa play in our family?
Is it okay to lie?
There’s a big difference between playing along and letting a child believe in a legend, and getting tripped up in fibs when the child begins to have doubts. In other words, it’s all well and good for a child to invent stories about Santa Claus (or anything else like an imaginary friend) and to enjoy talking to his parents about it as though it were true. But when a child asks a direct question because he wants to know the truth, he deserves a straight answer. Otherwise, the day he learns the truth, he will also also learn that his parents lied to him.
If we try to maintain the existence of Santa Claus built on endless fibs, the day the child learns the truth he’s in danger of rejecting everything else along with him: the Child in the manger and the Good News He came to bring. If we speak about Santa and Jesus with the same force of conviction, why would a child who loses faith in one not lose faith in the other?
Remember the true meaning of Christmas
As sweet and amusing as Santa Claus may be, he must not obscure or lessen the truth of Christmas. And so it’s of prime importance to always focus children on the crèche: it’s there that Christmas happens. Everything we experience at Christmas — presents included — has meaning only through that crèche. It’s because God became man and calls us to love that’s at the heart of why we exchange gifts. We must repeat this over and over to our children.
Our children must be able to experience this in a concrete way as they prepare gifts, as they visit someone housebound, as they send Christmas cards, as they choose some of their toys to give to needy children, as they prepare themselves spiritually — through prayer, in a spirit of humility and sharing — to welcome Jesus.
Should we let children believe in Santa?
So, should we get rid of Santa Claus? “That would be getting rid of part of our children’s dreams!” some parents may object. Others may say, “Not letting them believe in Santa would be to exclude them when they hear everyone at school talking about him.” But it is up to us, as Christians, to turn things around so that, everywhere, it is the crèche at the heart of the celebration of Christmas. Whether Christian or not, we can’t deny the historical fact of the birth of Jesus nor the significance of the first Noël.
As to the argument about the importance of dreams to our children, that’s so true that many children whose parents have always denied the existence of Santa still play along at believing in and talking about him as if he were real. It’s fine to enter into their make-believe, on the sole condition that we’re careful never to speak about Santa and Jesus with the same importance. For the Gospel is not a fairy-tale, it’s not “make-believe.” The true story of God’s love for us is infinitely more beautiful than all the fairy-tales in the world.
Who was Santa Claus? Some quick facts about the legendary saint
Why my family celebrates St. Nick instead of Santa