A Christmas day meditation from a Santa iconoclast
Since I don’t expect non-Christians to understand my concern here, let me state up front this meditation is written specifically for Christians, for all who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It’s Christmas time again. So once again churches, pastors and diligent Christian leaders try to get us to focus on the reason for the season and refresh our memories on what’s part of the original Christmas account and what isn’t. So you’ve probably been reminded and/or challenged on how many wise men there were (we don’t know, the Bible doesn’t say; three are depicted because of the three gifts of incense, gold and myrrh (Matt 2.1; 11)); whether Jesus’ Birth really happened on December 25th (unlikely, shepherds don’t keep their sheep in the fields at night during the cold months (Luke 2.8)), and that a manger isn’t a cute little wooden crib – it’s an animal feeding trough (Luke 2.16); etc. etc.
It’s in this vain of helping people focus on the real events and meaning of Christmas that I’m sure this article titled “Santa Claus and Christian Kids – What’s a Parent to Do?” was written. A perennial concern for Christians at Christmas time is what to do about Santa? That article is a good read, and I recommend it, but I will take a different tack on what parents should do about it.
The article’s author, Joshua Wallnofer, suggests:
“I would like to propose some reasons why I do not recommend parents to teach their children about Santa Claus as a true figure who comes into their home yearly.”
On that we can agree. It’s never a good idea to lie to your children; and it’s all the worse when you’re lying about a subject that has religious ties, and can ultimately affect their eternal destiny. But he goes on to suggest:
“I am not recommending that we demonize the Santa figure, but instead look at him redemptivly.”
Here is where we differ and I take a different tack for a simple reason: I don’t think the concept of “Santa” as it is believed and lived today is redeemable. Remember, we’re not talking about the redemption of a real person. And we’re not talking about Saint Nicholas – for whom he gives a brief history of in his article. We’re talking about what people believe about, and how they treat, this fictitious person called Santa. I would like to suggest two points that I think Mr. Wallnofer has missed:
1. It’s not that kids (or adults) confuse Santa for God, the problem is that Santa too often takes the place of God.
First let me remind you that anything that takes the place of God is an idol. Thus the root of this problem is idolatry. Mr. Wallnofer spends some time comparing the attributes of Santa to the attributes of God. Here I think he stretches it a bit. He claims, for example, that Santa is omniscient – based on what we learn about Santa in the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1934, where it states things such as:
“He sees you when you’re sleepin’ He knows when you’re a wake He knows if you’ve been bad or good…”
Even if it were true (which it’s obviously not), at best, this is a limited knowledge of specific things – concerning kids. Santa didn’t know, for example, all the problems Rudolf was having in the classic Christmas special. Nor was he aware of what his elves were up to when they tried to rescue Christmas in the special “The Year without a Santa Claus“. And Santa appears totally ignorant of the Grinch’s dastardly deeds in his attempts to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whoville.
I could go on with all the attributes, but I think you get my point, the problem is not that Santa has all the attributes of God; he obviously does not. He’s more like a superhero with super powers. The real problem is that Santa takes the place of God – in admiration, adoration, time spent thinking about him, thanks giving in terms of where gifts really come from. In so many ways, Santa steals glory from the God who says:
“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
If you doubt that Santa is taking the place of God here’s something that should clarify it for you: How can you tell secular radio stations from Christian ones at Christmas time? Easy: the secular stations will have plenty of songs about Santa; the Christian ones, plenty of songs about Jesus. How more clear can it get?
This switching of Santa for Jesus is the real problem. Particularly for the young it causes confusion. And there should be absolutely no confusion about where all the good tidings, good things, gifts, joy and happiness, and as it’s often put – the reason for the season come from at Christmas time, or why: It all originates with God, the giver of every “good and perfect gift” (James 1.17) and God does not want to share that glory with anyone. Which leads me to my second point:
2. For many, Santa has become an idol that most don’t want to get rid off
I already pointed out that for many Santa is an idol, so the main point here is the problem that people are loathe to get rid of Santa. That is why people are always trying to clean up his image, trying to “redeem” Santa, as Mr. Wallnofer does by giving a brief history of “the real Saint Nicholas [who] was born around 280 A.D. in Asia Minor.” But just because a thing or person has a good and noble beginning, that does not mean it is currently regarded the same way; and it certainly doesn’t mean it should be venerated or kept. Consider the means by which God saved the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt on their way to the promised land. (Num 21.4-9) They grew impatient on the way and refused to trust God for their food and water, and instead accused him of leading them out in the desert to die. In judgment God sent venomous snakes that bit many people who died as a result. When the people cried out to God for relief God told Moses to hang a snake on the a pole, and told the people to look at the snake; those who looked would be saved. (A foreshadowing of looking with faith at Christ who hung on the cross.)
The pole was a real object, and it was kept and eventually so venerated it became an idol. The bible reports that the idolatry had gotten so out of hand, people were even burning incense to it, so King Hezekiah had to destroy it to keep people from idolizing it. (2 Ki 18.4) Here’s my point: The idol in King Hezekiah’s day was called “Nehustan” and there was no way to redeem it – even though it had a legitimate start and was a part of Israel’s history. The only way to keep the people from worshiping the worthless idol was to destroy it – which Hezekiah did and was praised for it. I’m suggesting the same is true for Santa. Santa may have had a legitimate start, but he has become an irredeemable idol. And you’ll not get people to stop telling kids lies about him giving presents to all people all over the world. So I’m suggesting to all Christians who want to honor God to take the same approach Joshua did as he was entering the promised land that was full of pagan idols. Make a choice:
“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
What does that mean in terms of Santa? As for me and my household, Santa is totally barred, and never promoted. Not in Christmas cards, lawn decorations, ornaments, or gifts. I typically turn off songs on the radio about Santa though I confess, there are still some from my youth I enjoy and listen to. I consider it like food sacrificed to idols. (1 Cor 8.4-6) I know there’s no truth to the songs; and the entire thing is meaningless. I, as a mature Christian, have the freedom to enjoy it, but am careful no one will stumble from it (1 Cor 8.9) especially kids. But most importantly, with regard to Santa, I’ve always told my children the truth: I never claimed Santa was real, I never lied about where presents come from, and we always celebrated the real reason for the season (the birth of the savior Jesus). So if asked, I will always tell children the truth – I will not lie to perpetuate this cultural idolatry.
Now I suspect that there are many who are, if not offended by such a suggestion, think that I’m taking this way too far and way out of proportion. Santa’s all in good fun, right? Everyone knows it’s all make believe. Why are you making such a big deal about it? If that’s your approach let me suggest a little experiment by way of the prophet Malachi.
Malachi offers a little challenge to the people of his day who were disrespecting God by offering defective, undesirable sacrifices instead of offering the best. Here’s what he suggests to those accustomed to that practice:
When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.
God, via the prophet Malachi suggests you try giving the defective, undesired animals to your governor, see if he would be pleased. And if the governor isn’t pleased with that, why do you expect the Lord, the King of Kings would be pleased?
I have a suggestion along the same lines. Saturday Night Live produced a skit on Santa Claus a couple of years ago called “Sump’n Claus.” It featured a cash giving, morally questionable urban Santa who gives his gifts to everyone – regardless of whether they were naughty or nice (with an apparent preference for the naughty since they weren’t getting anything from the other Santa). He is accompanied by two PYT (pretty young thing) female assistants in the role of elves. My modest proposal (for men) is to find yourself 2 PYTs, dress them in very short holiday mini dresses, bring them home draped on your arms (as above) and tell your wife they will be spending the holidays with you. Re-assure her that unlike the PYT‘s in Michael Jackson’s song who needed some “TLC” (tender loving care), they’re just there for decoration, nothing more. If she’s upset, and intimates inappropriate behavior, or outright accuses you of having an affair, just keep re-assuring her it’s all make believe, all in fun, just like Santa Claus. Tell her to get in the spirit. There’s no real relationship there, just like there’s no real Santa. (For the ladies, the point could be made by finding a Daddy Warbucks to bring home, but I think the point is more clearly made with the wife and PYT’s for what I believe are obvious reasons.)
If your wife isn’t buying that the PYTs you bring home are just there for “decoration” and insists you get rid of them, she is demonstrating the nature of male-female relationships that ironically Michael Jackson sang about in another song: “Be careful what you do, because a lie becomes the truth.” A relationship may start out innocently, but it quickly starts involving real, and deep emotions. Likewise with an idol – of which Santa is a type. They capture part of the heart which should be devoted to God.
That’s why most wives will try to”nip it in the bud” before they let a relationship with a PYT grow and flourish with their husband. That’s also why any use of Santa should be “nipped in the bud.” Before people treat him as something that is good for kids to believe in. Before they start getting sentimental over movies like a “Miracle on a 34th Street” and the like. If the mere thought of getting rid of Santa is offensive to you (or the above Sump’n Claus video), and you’re a Christian, all I can suggest is what the apostle Paul told his young apprentice Timothy: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Tim 2.7) And if you really think Santa should stay, please, try my modest proposal, and as Dr. Phil might say, let me know how that works out for you. On the other hand, if you don’t think it’s a good idea to needlessly arouse jealousy in your wife like that, why is it okay to do so for our God? (Ex 34.14-16)
1. Joshua Wallnofer, Santa Claus and Christian Kids – What’s a Parent to do?, Creation Today, http://creationtoday.org/santa-claus-and-christian-kids-whats-a-parent-to-do/ Dec 13, 2016
2. Wallnofer, Santa Claus and Christian Kids