The evergreen dresses in her stunning Christmas sparkles. Ginger and cinnamon waft from the warm Christmas oven. The family gathers close to the bright Christmas fire, but a guilt-ridden question hangs over our head. Carols sing sweetly in the white Christmas cold. Little toys hang from the tall Christmas tree. Candles and friends and family light up the dark Christmas evenings. But, somewhere in the middle of Christmas wreaths and gingerbread houses, we struggle with the Santa Claus conundrum. Should our Old Jolly Friend visit our Christian household on that blessed Christmas Eve?
You see, it is the eve of the Christ child’s birth. What an amazing gift God gave to his world, to save us terrible sinners from the punishment of death. The humble birth we celebrate on Christmas day was the bold entrance of the Word of God into the dust of the earth. The little baby we celebrate on Christmas day was the very flesh that would be beaten instead of ours. The breath of life we celebrate on Christmas Day was the first incarnate inhale of a eternal promise of life given to us.
So does a funny old fat man deserve any of our attention on Christmas?
Many Christians lament the “lie” of Santa Claus during this special celebration. Santa and Jesus are portrayed to go head-to-head, fighting to be the Christmas Champion. Christians are encouraged to fill their front lawn with nativity figures, to only buy “Jesus is the Reason” ornaments, and to be exclusively entertained with baby Jesus movies. Believers will shame Santa’s worldly consumerism, yet promote Jesus’s heavenly commercialism, to share the gospel of course.
So, this question is even harder when we consider our children. Do we tell them this jolly old story that we know is not true? Do we encourage this imaginary figure, especially on this night of such real celebration? Are we pushing our kids over to the dark side if they receive gifts from Santa Claus?
Every part of Christmas, Team Jesus or Team Santa, can be grossly misused. There is no escape from the distracted desires of our heart, even on Christmas. And so it’s not as simple as choosing a side. In truth, Santa and Jesus are not at war. Rather, we are just a little confused: our culture has lost the virtue of a fairy tale.
Santa Claus is a tale told to young children. Reindeers and presents, it’s a magical and hopeful story of good things to come on Christmas Morning. As fairy tales are meant to do, imaginary or realistic characters do extraordinary things. Whether it is slaying a dragon to protect a girl, or it is enduring the hardships of a wicked stepmother, or it is visiting all the children of the world in one night, fairy tales are free to teach about joy, sorrow, and hope of things to come.
But more importantly, fairy tales are for children. Little minds with limited experience and power live through the words of these enchanted stories. A timid toddler boy takes up his imaginary sword to stand up boldly for his princess. A young girl whistles during chores as she dreams of castles and carriages. Children everywhere wait with un-cynical joy for that anticipated morning to break where they find free gifts under a tree. Fairy tales capture the imagination of our children and teach a little about life beyond their small comfy home.
Santa Claus is a Christmas fairy tale that encourages even the youngest of minds to look forward to a special morning. What a better morning to celebrate than when our Lord appeared on the earth.
But when our children grow, they begin to put away childish thoughts. One day they wake up and realize that our fallen world is uglier than it first appeared. They will be touched by the sting of sickness and death. They will become disappointed that their real-world heroes do not always match the stories. They will discover that the fairy tales of their childhood fade back into story books and fuzzy memories.
But, as our children grow, they will be comforted by un-imaginary hopes and expectations to come. They have learned to distinguish the evil dragon and now will boldly fight as men. They have learned to value patience, work and honor even under dire circumstances. They have learned to anticipate a free gift on Christmas Morning, and in Christ they now hope in the free gift of eternal life.
The Christmas Fairy tale of Santa Claus is certainly not our story of salvation. But this imaginary legend is not harmful to our little Christians’ ears. If our children grow up saturated in faith that Jesus Christ is the only true hope, there is nothing to fear from this fairy tale.