I have a 2-1/2 year old son, who in the 3rd advent season of his life is finally starting to appreciate the wonder and excitement of Christmas. His little face lit up when we put up our tree, and when the lights were plugged in, he declared, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” We have a nativity set that uses tealight candles, and he asks us to light them and then wants to try and blow them out. He thinks every package that UPS drops off at our house is a Christmas present for him just because I told him that one was. He points and yells, “Christmas!” at everything remotely Christmasy in any store we go to. He asks to watch Christmas videos. He just loves everything Christmas.
My wife and I might be even more excited than he is for Christmas morning to come. He loved getting presents last year when he didn’t really comprehend what was going on so we can’t wait to see his reaction when all his anticipation for Christmas is finally fulfilled. But one thing that won’t be part of our Christmas Eve and Christmas morning experience is Santa Claus. There won’t be cookies left out for him before going to sleep on December 24th. We won’t be writing, “From Santa” on any of the gifts. His name probably won’t even be mentioned.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Santa. We watch movies with Santa in them, we’ve given our son Santa coloring books, and we won’t be teaching him that Santa is evil. But we won’t be letting him think Santa brings his gifts either. Once he’s a little older, we’ll teach him the real story of Santa and why we should celebrate the historical St. Nicholas (although that’s already started to some extent since he absolutely loves the VeggieTales St. Nicholas movie), but for now we’ll just let Santa be the cartoonish fictional character he naturally assumes he is.
I know not everyone will agree with us. I’m sure there are some who probably think we’re wrong for allowing any vestige of Santa in our home. Others probably think we’re being too strict and depriving our son of his childhood by robbing him of a belief in Santa. I guess it’s more for that second objection that I want to explain why we will tell our son that his Christmas presents are from us (via a store) and not from Santa (via elves at the North Pole):
1. I don’t want to lie to him. I never want my son to have a moment where he thinks to himself, “I wonder what else they’ve told me that isn’t true.” I want him to know that he can believe what Mommy and Daddy tell him, especially when it comes to the significance of things like Christmas and Easter. I don’t want Santa and the Easter Bunny muddying the waters and confusing the message of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. I also want to teach him that truth is always preferable to lies. I don’t want him thinking it’s ok to lie to us because we lied to him.
2. I want him to know the real reason he receives gifts on Christmas. Santa distributes presents based on merit, whether someone was good or bad. It tells kids they need to earn what they get on Christmas. Mommy and Daddy give him gifts because they love him, unconditionally. On Christmas, we celebrate God sending his Son as a gift for mankind, even though we didn’t deserve it. I want to use gift-giving as a way to teach him about the wonderful grace of God and the love of his parents. I don’t want him thinking some chubby stranger in a red suit loves him more than his parents and Jesus do.
3. I don’t want gifts to be the focus of Christmas. Christmas isn’t about the gifts we receive; it’s about the Gift that we need to receive. As my son grows up, I want the focus to be on celebrating Christ’s birth with our church, spending time with family and loved ones, and finding opportunities to share God’s love with others. You can do that with the historical St. Nicholas, but you can’t with the contemporary Santa Claus. Santa is a nice seasonal figure that results in cute TV specials and funny holiday songs. But he just doesn’t fit into the story of God stepping down from his throne, being born as a baby, living a perfect life, dying a horrific death in our place, and rising again to give us eternal life. My son will (hopefully) grow up knowing that as the true meaning of Christmas. I want him to have realistic expectations for gifts, while at the same time knowing that his parents love to spoil him and want to give him every good thing they can. I want him knowing that giving at Christmas is more important than receiving, that even if he received nothing, he’d still be better off than most, and that the most important Gift he can receive was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.
That’s what I want Christmas to be for my boy. I want him to see his parents’ love and gift-giving as a reflection of God’s love and Gift-giving. I want him to know Jesus, not believe in Santa Claus. I want the awe, wonder, and anticipation he has experienced this Christmas to remain in his heart for all his Christmases and not be extinguished by finding out that something he believed in was just a man-made fairy tale. I want him to see “His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). And that is why Santa won’t be coming to my house this Christmas.