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December 18, 2005 Q & A

The Truth About Santa Claus

Question:

My family and I attend our local PCA church, and do dearly love the Reformed faith. I have a silly question which doesn't really have to do with doctrine. Please forgive me for asking this question. My wife and I are going around in circles with each other concerning Christmas. We were both raised being taught to believe in Santa Claus; however, now that I am a father I have some serious issues with teaching my daughter to believe in some one she can't see who doesn't exist, while at the same time teaching her to believe in some one else whom she cannot see but does exist. I'm afraid that when she realizes Santa isn't real, she may conclude that Christ isn't real either. My wife is committed to keeping the Santa tradition; thus we debate. Am I wrong for pushing the issue?

Answer:

I, too, was brought up by adults who led me to think that Santa really existed. And I think my parents did this for the simple reason that everyone else did it too. So when I became a Reformed Christian and a father I, too, had to deal with this issue. So I will simply try to tell you what I did, and why.

I decided, as the responsible head of my family, that it was in fact a doctrinal issue. The issue is the biblical doctrine of truth-telling. As you know, the Bible has much to say about the subject of "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15 NIV).

"...speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:15).

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Eph. 4:25 NIV).

"Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col. 3:9-10).

Suggestion: go through an edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms with proof texts (you'll find those documents on-line here) and read the many texts that insist on telling the truth and not falsehood. It was my growing conviction that God requires us to speak truth in every situation that led me to refuse to bring up my three daughters in such a way as to encourage them in any way to believe that Santa really exists.

At the same time I never saw it as necessary to forbid enjoyment of the Santa myth—as a myth (that is, telling my children that it is all a made-up story). We allow other such stories into our lives, recognizing that they tell of characters who are "pretend" and not real (examples: Cinderella, hobbits, Mickey Mouse, Alice in Wonderland, etc.). I see no biblical reason to say that a made-up story is necessarily wrong, as long as it is not palmed off as a true story.

It seems to me that even the parables of Christ may be like this. I do not believe that we are required to say that the parable of the sower is a literally true story of a particular actual person who went out sowing seeds. The prophet Nathan's story about the rich man taking the lamb from the poor man in 2 Samuel 12 is obviously not intended to be taken literally, because Nathan tells David, "You are the man" (2 Samuel 2:12, NIV).

No, we have there a vivid use of something that is not literal to tell us about something that is true, but on a higher level. I'm not suggesting that there is some "higher level" truth to be learned from Santa, but perhaps we can use even that story to communicate truth by contrast.

For example, we're told of Santa that "he knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake." Well, Santa is not omniscient—he cannot be, because he is make-believe, not real—but our God, the God of the Bible, is both real and totally omniscient (see Ps. 139). And the Lord our Shepherd leads us in the paths of righteousness not simply "for goodness' sake," but for his Name's sake (see Ps. 23).

So, as I see it, the issue is truth telling. The truth is that there is no Santa Claus at the North Pole. And it does not hurt children in any way to know that from day one. They can still enjoy the silly song about Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Let me conclude with some words from Solomon that seem somewhat strange (even almost contradictory) at first sight: "Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them" (Eccl. 7:16-18).

We expect an inspired scripture writer to warn against being wicked—and especially overly wicked. But we are startled a bit to hear this warning against being "overly righteous"! We are indeed to "be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48 NIV), but we need to be careful not to go beyond Scripture in forbidding what is not forbidden in Scripture! But that can be a real danger. We can so easily over-react. We can so easily go to extremes. It seems to me that this is what some do with respect to the Santa myth.

May the Lord grant you the wisdom to reject what is evil completely, without being "overly righteous."

 

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