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December 17, 2015 / BTM

Could Santa Erode a Child’s Faith?

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Did you grow up with Santa?  If so, how did you feel when you found out that Santa wasn’t real?

I did grow up with Santa, and I distinctly remember feeling foolish when I discovered that he was a hoax.  The reason I felt foolish was because I had ‘fallen’ for a lie – one that all the adults in my life knew wasn’t true but told me anyway.

Years later when I had children of my own, I had very mixed feelings about introducing Santa to them.  I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who feels this way about Santa.  In fact, there are a number of prominent atheists who feel this way about the idea of Santa – to the point that they think Santa plays against Christianity.

Could playing the Santa game weaken your child’s faith?

What happens when you tell your children that Santa is real?

Perhaps you didn’t have the same kind of experience as I did when you found out that Santa wasn’t real.  I offer my experience as a backdrop to some thoughts about Santa.  It was my husband who first articulated the idea to me that Santa could be bad for a child’s faith.

I know that may sound a bit far fetched, but hear me out.  When children are lead to believe that Santa delivers toys to children all over the world (but only the good ones) with a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, they will eventually figure out that the story isn’t true.  Some will figure it out on their own, others will be informed by friends.  Regardless of what lengths some parents go to in order to maintain the illusion of Santa, we all expect our children to outgrow the myth.  When they do, they’ll come to understand Santa as a myth – or a lie – that only small children fall for – and it was perpetuated by their parents.

Now, what happens when you tell them that Jesus was born through a virgin at Christmas as God’s gift to mankind?  How about angels announcing His birth to shepherds?  The wise men following a special star to bring him gifts?  What about Jesus’ later death and resurrection?  Will they eventually wonder if these are all true as well – or just a cute little white lie to be outgrown once they become more educated and aware?

Clearly this is an unintended consequence of playing the Santa game, but the question is valid.

What is to stop your kids from wondering which of the things you tell them are true and which are not?

Atheists think Santa plays into their hand

I’m not sure that you can ‘lie’ or ‘mislead’ your children about Santa (or the tooth fairy, or the Easter bunny…) and not have it erode at least a little bit of their trust in you.  I was surprised to discover that many atheists feel the same way about this issue.  Articles by the ‘friendly’ atheist and an atheist who thinks Santa is the greatest gift to atheism both agree, but with a twist.  They both identify the Santa lie as the first time when children will realize that their parents are capable of misleading or lying to them.

It doesn’t really matter why their parents did it, the loss of trust at such an early age will stick.  Both of these bloggers feel that Christian parents who tell their children that Santa is true risk losing their children’s trust when they tell them that God and Jesus are true (not surprisingly, both think this is a positive outcome).

I really didn’t expect anyone outside of Christianity to be thinking about Santa in this way.

Does Christmas lose its magic without Santa?

Evict Santa from Christmas?  How Grinch-y!

I’ve been made to feel that way by some people.  This non-Christian psychologist  suggests that parents could keep the magical part of Santa in their Christmas by telling their kids that Santa is make-believe and tell them that they’ll leave their children presents ‘just like Santa did’.

That’s the magic of commercialism.

If we need Santa to bring magic into our Christmas then we’ve completely misunderstood the mood of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus’ coming was the most incredible event the world had ever experienced.  Angel visitations.  Dreams.  Angel choirs.  God with us.  Wise men travelling thousands of miles to present gifts.  Prophets approaching Mary and Joseph in the temple.  The escape of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt soon after the wise men’s visit.  If you want ‘magic’ in your Christmas, focus on these events.   focus on what really happened.

And then, of course, give your children evidence that their faith is real during the rest of the year.

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What do you think?  Is Santa a little white lie or do the atheists I’ve noted here have a point?

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4 Comments

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  1. Jennifer Spears / Dec 17 2015 2:26 pm

    I completely agree with you. I have also been made to feel “grinchy” for insisting that I would never tell my child this lie. I am shocked by the great lengths that many parents will go to in order to convince their children that Santa is actually real. Regardless of one’s world view, I do see this as a fundamental breach of trust. I don’t think pretending that Santa is real is harmless fun. Imagining together with your children can be fun, but you both need to know that what you are imagining is “just pretend”. When only the adult knows, I’m sorry but it is a lie. Ditto for the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy. For Christians especially, I think there is a real problem here – just as you stated, it is so important that our children know that what we tell them to be true IS REALLY TRUE. One point that really brought home to me the potential damage that “Santa” could cause was reading about heartbreaking letters that children had written to Santa, asking him to meet their very real and deep needs: such as asking him to bring their daddy back, or heal a loved one, or make their parents stop fighting. How terribly sad that children would be told a lie that led them to seek help from this imaginary character – when there is a real person who truly can help them – Jesus.

    • BTM / Dec 17 2015 3:44 pm

      You’ve articulated your opinion so well – and reminded me about those heartbreaking letters by children to Santa – I’d completely forgotten about that. Isn’t it strange that children are asking such big and serious requests of Santa when that aspect of Santa has never been marketed to them before? It does seem that in their minds Santa is taking on the role of God – or at least the distinction is not very clear. I can imagine that a child who is let down by Santa for such a request would have a difficult time believing that God would be any different. Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. Daniel M. Klem / Dec 20 2015 2:40 am

    We do not have children, yet, but we made a decision before getting married how to handle Santa Claus. Basically, here is how we have planned it:
    We will share the truth of the original Saint Nicholas and how his story has traversed time and the continents. We will also explain the real spirit of the season: the Holy Spirit. Anyone who works by the Spirit is doing the same work Nicholas did. Therefore, if Santa Claus leaves a gift for someone, it is someone giving by the same Spirit as the original.
    They will also be taught that God can move people who may not believe in Him by that same Spirit. No matter how the gifts are given, God still is to be glorified.
    No lies, white or otherwise. No half-truths. Just biblical theology and a focus on God.

    • BTM / Dec 21 2015 12:23 pm

      Great idea. We also told our kids about the history behind Santa Claus, which puts the emphasis back on Christ.

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