Archives For The Truth About Santa Claus

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) Kicking Santa Claus in the movie Christmas Vacation.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) kicking Santa Claus in the movie Christmas Vacation.

Amidst the hectic nature of the Christmas season, squeezed within the crowds of our shopping malls, and frantically moving from one get-together to the next, we need to remember one essential Christmas truth: Immanuel.

I’m not talking about loosening up your Christmas schedule. I’m not asking you to forego your annual visit to Santa, to boycott those non-Christian Christmas movies, or to sing only churchly Christmas carols. I don’t mean to imply that we simply remember that Jesus is the reason for the season or to suggest that we take some time to focus on him this Christmas. Not at all.

No, what we need to remember this Christmas season is Immanuel. The life-changing truth of Christmas is the advent of Immanuel. God-with-us, which is literally what Immanuel means, is the reality that transforms every aspect of life. The Old Testament is all about God’s presence. The Garden of Eden was all about God-with-us. The post-sin promises in Genesis 3 were about the restoration of God-with-us. The tabernacle and temple were about God-with-us. The exile was the tragic realization that God-is-no-longer-with-us. And the positive side of the message of the prophets was the hope of God-with-us.

And then Jesus was born, and God was with us. In the most profound sense imaginable. He was a human being, walking amongst human beings, teaching us from our midst, guiding and healing us as he stood next to us. And even when Immanuel rose from the grave and returned to the Father, God-with-us was still a present reality. In fact, when Immanuel ascended, he left us with Immanuel on steroids (so to speak).

Jesus was God-with-us in that God walked in our midst. As amazing as that is, Jesus sent an even more intense version of God-with-us to take his place: the Holy Spirit. Now God-with-us means that he lives not beside us, but within us. He is with us on the inside, transforming, convicting, and guiding us. Immanuel has never meant more.

Now back to the point. As we elbow our way through the Christmas crowds, God-is-with-us. As we stand in line for a photo with Santa, God-is-with-us. As we gather with our families, give and receive gifts, sing Christmas carols, and give and receive the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) white elephant gifts, God-is-with-us.

It’s not about abandoning one for the sake of the other. It’s not about taking time away from the shopping mall to think about Jesus. When you walked into that shopping mall, God was with you. And he’s with you still now. And now. And now. He is everywhere in your Christmas schedule. You do it all—shopping, Santa, and singing—by God’s side, or better, with God inside. Immanuel.

So it doesn’t matter if you go to see Santa or watch a movie in which he stars. God is with you. View Santa through eyes of faith and you have nothing to fear. It doesn’t matter if you over-gift your kids or feel a rush of delight as you drink a peppermint mocha at Starbucks. God is with you. If you do these activities as a transformed and transforming bearer of the very Spirit of God, then these “distractions” cannot possibly pull you away from the Christ of Christmas, because he’s already there. On the inside. Immanuel.

So as you navigate this Christmas season, just remember one all-important truth: Immanuel.

Santa Claus has been with us for many generations, but still there are those who deny his existence. More than 100 years ago, sweet little Virginia O’Hanlon, eight years old at the time, encountered some of these nonbelievers, which prompted her to write these famous words to the editor of the New York Sun:

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia O’Hanlon

Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

The brilliant response from newspaper writer Francis Church has reportedly become the most frequently reprinted editorial of all time. He explains:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little…

Francis Church

Francis Church

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world…Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus…There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

Francis Church is rightly condemning the modern notion that we should only believe in those things which can be verified through the five senses. Indeed, the lack of legitimate “Santa sightings” is no reason to disbelieve in his existence. Church maintains a sense of wonder in our increasingly technologized world. Where would we be if our worldview left no room for mystery?

But we need to be careful about equating the kind of faith that can be directed toward Santa Claus and the kind of faith that Christians direct towards Jesus. Some would say that faith is faith—believing in Jesus is no different than believing in Santa. When Karl Marx referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses,” he had in mind the kind of faith that Francis Church has in Santa Claus: We can’t explain everything in this world, and none of us want to give up the joy of poetry, romance, and wonder, so why not believe in Santa if it makes life more bearable?

Santa ChimneyI am all for celebrating the magic and mystery of the world in fun ways (which is how I see Santa Claus). But we “believe” in Santa despite what we know, rather than because of it. No one ever looked at the night before Christmas and decided the best way to explain the gifts in the stockings and under the tree is a garish, overweight man in a red velvet suit flying in a sleigh and descending through every chimney in the world.

On the contrary, faith in Jesus is not despite the evidence. It is not blind faith. It is a faith that rests on the authority of what God has said, and then steps out into the real world and finds God’s words confirmed in every aspect of the world and the human experience. Faith in Jesus is more than a sense of romance and magic (though it is not less).

So celebrate Christmas with or without reference to Santa Claus, and never lose your sense of wonder in this unbelievable world. But don’t believe those who tell you that faith in Jesus is nothing more than a lie you tell yourself to make life a little happier, or to make your Christmas celebrations a little more religiously charged. God’s truth runs deeper than our five senses, but it is consistently confirmed by all of them.

Elf - He's Not the Real Santa

From the 2003 New Line Cinema film Elf.

Leading up to Halloween, we posted a series that represented the views of a few of our faculty members on whether or not Christians should participate in Trick-or-Treating. It was a great experience for us, and we got a good response from our readers.

So we’re going to try it again. This time we’ll take on the question of whether or not Christians should tell their kids that Santa Claus is real. In today’s post, our president, Joshua Walker, explains why he was careful to tell his children that Santa is not real. In tomorrow’s post, our librarian, Yvonne Wilber, will explain why she encouraged her kids to indulge in the magic of the Santa myth.

Many of you will have made up your minds on this long ago. But maybe some of you could use some help in thinking it through from a couple of angles. And all of us should be able to benefit from seeing godly Christians disagree in a loving, intelligent, and Christ-centered way.

Enjoy!

Mark Beuving

_________________

Joshua Walker’s post:

 

Spoiler Alert: If you believe in Santa, don’t keep reading.

Let’s be honest—being a parent is one of the most difficult and significant roles that we could ever take on. And we tend to do it with almost a complete lack of intentional training. As I tried to find my way as a young parent, I decided on a couple of things, one of the most important being that I was going to strive to be brutally honest with my kids. God defines Himself by truth. I decided that I wanted my relationship with my kids to be defined by truth. I have endeavored to have a very transparent life and explain the way the world really is to them to the best of my ability and to the extent their minds could understand it.

That doesn’t mean I tell my kids everything about everything. There are times I tell them “that’s not appropriate for you at this age,” and then often later have a conversation that begins with, “remember those things I told you weren’t appropriate at your age? Well, now you’re old enough…” I think there is a value in their innocence and naiveté.  They don’t have to grow up too quickly.

Elf - You Sit on a Throne of LiesIt was on this basis that my wife and I decided what to do regarding Santa Claus (and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for that matter). We decided that we’d be honest with them, so we explained the history of St. Nicholas, how he was a real person, and how there was a tradition that had developed of wicked parents horribly deceiving their children with regard to this person still being alive (ok, we didn’t really say “wicked” or “deceiving” but I thought emotionally charged language might help my case (I’m kidding, we honestly don’t believe it’s evil to let your kids believe in Santa)). We also went on to explain that it was important for them to not go on a crusade to tell other children the truth about Santa Claus.

As I considered the possibility of teaching them to “believe in” Santa Claus, it always bothered me deeply. First, isn’t it weird that we use the phrase “believe in” to describe people’s “faith” in Santa or not? If we’re going to model faith, one of the first ways we do it shouldn’t be in something that turns out to be a myth! Second, it seemed to me that telling them something that everyone knew was untrue and that they would eventually learn was untrue would undermine much of what I was trying to accomplish as a parent. If I had worked hard to convince them of something that was untrue, then what other more important things that I had taught them would they question?

My kids are 8 and 10, so the jury’s still out on what this has produced in their lives. As far as I can tell, my kids haven’t been deeply harmed by not believing in Santa Claus. They aren’t “weird” kids who don’t understand how to interact with “normal” kids. In fact, I think they’re quite culturally aware of things like this because we’ve had to teach them how to interact with people who believe lots of different things in an understanding and loving way.

As a side note, my kids still get money from the “Tooth Fairy.” They walk up to me with their tooth and say “Hey tooth fairy, can I give you my tooth?” and I pull out my wallet and give them a dollar for it. Then we laugh about it. Welcome to our world…

NativityWe’ve all heard the saying, and most of us have probably said it ourselves. Jesus is the reason for the season. But is it true?

You’ve probably heard vague statements about the pagan origins of Christmas. My guess is that Christian responses to these claims cover the following spectrum:

  • “That’s not true!”
  • “Are you daft? It’s called Christmas! It’s about Jesus’ birthday!”
  • “I don’t care.”
  • “Wait, what?!”

I’d like to help you think through this a bit. As Christians, we need to stand firmly on our beliefs. But we also need to be sure that our beliefs are grounded in reality. We don’t want to take a firm stand on some irrelevant and speculative point.

First of all, we should acknowledge that much of what we love about Christmastime is rooted in paganism. So much so, in fact, that the Puritans outlawed Christmas for a number of years. No joke.

The truth is, we have no idea when Jesus’ birthday really is. At some point, the Church picked a date, thinking that December 25 was as good a date as any to celebrate the incarnation. Actually, we should go a step farther and say that the church thought December 25 was better than other dates because of its ties with paganism. The Winter Solstice takes place around this date, and this was a big moment for pagans who celebrated the undying sun. It also corresponds to the pagan festival of Saturnalia, held in honor of the god Saturn. So Christian leaders chose to celebrate Jesus’ birth at this time of the year in order to repurpose a moment in time that had been dedicated to pagan worship.

Christmas Tree

This type of repurposing has been common throughout history. A conquering religious group would often use artifacts and culture from the conquered people’s religion in order to make the transition to the new religion easier. When we look at Islam, for example, much of their worship looks very foreign. But in reality, a lot of the architecture in their mosques and their practice of prostration during prayer were actually adopted from the Eastern Christians they conquered. They repurposed these religious elements, and eventually these things became as indistinguishable a part of the new religion as any other custom. Christians have done the same thing throughout history.

There are similarly pagan ties with other Christmas traditions. Christmas trees probably originated from the practice of worshipping the evergreen in winter by bringing it into homes and decorating it as a means of celebrating its inextinguishable fertility. Or it may have been a uniquely Christian phenomenon, chosen because of its triangular shape, which hints at the Trinity. I’ve heard both versions. Mistletoe is probably pagan in origin. Santa Claus connects back to St. Nicholas in the early church, but the tradition probably got mixed with some non-Christian elements along the way.

The point is, we can’t simply say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” as though Jesus were born on December 25 and every element of our Christmas celebration has always been Christian. Many Christians get upset when the politically correct among us say Merry Xmas or Happy Holidays. But we probably shouldn’t. Christians have never had an exclusive right to celebration during the month of December. It’s unfair of us to have adapted non-Christian forms of celebration into our Christmas celebration and then tell other people that they can’t celebrate anything else during this season.

Christmas GiftsBut here’s the thing. I’m not anti-Christmas. I like our Christmas traditions. I find them rich in meaning. I’m not bothered by the reality that many of the elements of our celebration were repurposed from paganism. These things have been a part of the Christian tradition for a long time, and they have a deep significance for my family and for Christians everywhere. Symbols work through the connections and connotations attached to them. None of these Christmas symbols carry any sense of paganism for myself or anyone I know; the symbols have taken on new meaning.

Jesus may not have been born on December 25, but he was born. I’m happy to celebrate that truth in the dead of winter. It feels appropriate to enjoy the traditions with my children that I received from my parents, and that we all received from countless generations of godly, Christ-loving people. So let’s not get snooty about who wants to celebrate what on which day, and let’s enjoy the Christmas season to the fullest. We have much to celebrate!