Although Santa Claus is a mythical figure, his creation is based in part on a great Christian man named Saint Nicholas of Myra, who lived in the 4th century. Nicholas was born to Christian parents who left him an inheritance when they died, which he distributed to the poor. He became a priest at a young age and was well-known for his compassion and generosity. He had a reputation for giving gifts anonymously, and he would throw bags of money into people’s homes (and sometimes down their chimneys) under the cover of night to avoid being spotted.
Nicholas passed away on December 6 sometime around the 340s or 350s AD, and the day of his death became an annual feast in which children would put out food for Nicholas and straw for his donkey. It was said that the saint would come down from heaven during the night and replace the offerings with toys and treats—but only for the good boys and girls. There are many different versions of the legend of Saint Nicholas, but all are the inspiration for the jolly, red-suited gift-giver that we now know as Santa Claus.
Many Christian parents are torn as to whether or not they should play the “Santa game” with their children. On one hand, he makes Christmas fun and magical, leaving wonderful holiday memories for years to come. On the other hand, the focus of Christmas should be on Jesus Christ and how much He has already given us. So, is the story of Santa Claus an innocent addition to Christmas festivities, or is he a subject that should be avoided?
Parents need to use their own judgment in deciding whether or not to include Santa during the holidays, but here are some things to consider: Children who believe that the gifts they receive Christmas morning are from a magical man with unending resources are less likely to appreciate what they have been given, and the sacrifices their parents make in providing them. Greed and materialism can overshadow the holiday season, which is meant to be about giving, loving, and worshiping God. Children whose parents are on a tight budget may feel that they have been overlooked by Santa, or even worse, deemed one of the “bad” boys or girls.
An even more troubling aspect of telling our children that Santa comes down the chimney each year to leave their gifts is that it is, obviously, a lie. We live in a society that believes that lying for the “right” reason is acceptable. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it is not a problem. This is contrary to what the Bible tells us. “For the Scriptures say, ‘If you want to live a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil, and keep your lips from telling lies'” (1 Peter 3:10, NLT). Of course, telling our children that Santa is real is not a malicious deception, but it is, nevertheless, a lie.
Although it is probably not typical, some children honestly feel deceived and betrayed by their parents when they find out that Santa is not real. Children trust their parents to tell them the truth, and it is our responsibility not to break this trust. If we do, they will not believe more important things we tell them, such as the truth about Christ, whom they also cannot physically see.
This doesn’t mean we must leave Santa completely out of Christmas. Children can still play the “Santa game” even if they know it is all pretend. They can make lists, sit on his lap at the mall, and leave out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. This will not rob them of their joy of the season, and gives parents the opportunity to tell their children about the godly qualities of the real Saint Nicholas, who dedicated his life to serving others and made himself into a living example of Jesus Christ.