If Halloween is the most controversial holiday in Christian circles, then Christmas arrives as a close second. The classic tug-of-war between right-winged Christians and liberals over the secularization of Christmas has attracted the attention of the media, and as a result, it has attracted the attention of the public eye. Noteworthy is the struggle over making Christmas politically correct—which logically implies that something about Christmas presents itself as uneven or perhaps offensive. While there are many different factors at play that make Christmas controversial between different groups of people, perhaps few things are as controversial within Christian circles as the character of Santa Claus.
Santa is controversial, because to many, he is distracting from the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ. Generally, there seems to be three groups of people with different attitudes towards Santa: 1) The left—I want my children to believe in Santa; 2) the moderate—I don’t care if my children believe, but I certainly won’t press them in that direction; 3) the right—I don’t want my kids believing in Santa. Growing up, my parents took the moderate approach. They didn’t make much of Santa one way or another. Any belief I had in Santa was shot down the year that I saw my dad taking my new bike out of the attic—and I didn’t care because I was getting a new bike. But I have heard stories of people coming from the left who believed in Santa for some time, and once their parents revealed to them that Santa is a legendary figure, they stopped trusting their parents. I have also seen first-hand how the right reacts to the figure of Santa as being an insidious character, who acts as a deliberate snare to keep people from seeing the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps not all of the right are really that extreme—there are positions on all ends of the spectrum. I would, however, like to address what I have seen as being the great red herring in the controversy of Santa Claus—which I believe that the right has chased after for some time.
In the opening statements of Francis Schaeffer’s Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer calls out the Christian community for being painfully slow (and often too late) to see the big picture. “Christians are only seeing things in bits and pieces,” he said. In order for us to understand the depth of certain issues, we need to always place our attention on the roots. The issue of Santa seems no different. We’re often simply focusing on the bits and pieces of Santa Claus as opposed to the full picture. My wife and I do not yet have children—and I am certainly not writing a post about how you should raise your children. What I am saying is that we need to understand that if all you concentrate on is removing the figure of Santa Claus, then you’ve fallen for the trap—you’ve only seen the bits and pieces, and not the bigger picture.
Imagine with me the bar scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton and Brad Pitt meet up after a suspected gas leak caused Norton’s apartment to explode—turning all of his possesses to ash and dust. Norton, a bit tipsy from his beer, is rambling about the loss of his possessions. “I was building quite a respectable wardrobe,” “I was almost complete.” “Yes,” says Brad Pitt, “and now it’s all gone.” Then, in a cold, but sincere voice, Pitt reminds him “The things you own, end up owning you.” The truth of the matter is that when we have the bigger picture in focus, we see that the issue isn’t so much Santa Claus, but materialism. If our goal is to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and we remove Santa Claus thinking that he is the root of the problem, then we’ve only caught the bits and pieces between our fingers. To raise a generation of kids who don’t believe in Santa Claus, yet place all of their hopes and dreams on acquiring material possessions, is to fail miserably as Christians. Materialism is the bigger picture—Santa Claus is the bits and pieces.
Whatever you choose to teach your kids about Santa Claus is left to your own convictions. I have little to say as a non-parent but my own opinions on the matter. However, the Bible has much to say about the love of possessions and money that distracts us from what is really important in life. It is an empirical fact, that materialism does not satisfy the craving of the human soul; that is where the true meaning of Christmas comes in. Do with Santa what you wish–but don’t slap a band aid on cancer thinking that the mere veiling of Santa Claus is the solution to the problem. The problem is far, far deeper. Santa Claus only makes an appearance once a year—materialism is closer than your shadow.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:20)