I appreciate a tall tale as much as the next guy. I’ve even told a few. But as parents, we need to separate truth from fiction. As believers, it is our calling to be truth-tellers. (Ephesians 4:15) While the word Santa means saintly or holy, it is our job to help our little saints think rightly about good ole “Saint Nick.”  

There are scant threads of truth cast over our Christmas shenanigans about a real Saint Nicholas who was born in 280 A.D. in an area part of present-day Turkey. He lost both of his parents as a young man and reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. I’m all for generosity and so is our Lord, but beware of distortions that usurp our divine delight in the God who said, “Every good gift cometh from above.” (James 1:17)

Norman Rockwell paints an excellent portrait of a young boy’s discovery of the big fellow we call Santa Clause. Shock and disappointment are written all over his face after he discovers Santa’s festive red suit hidden in his father’s dresser drawer. It’s a classic!

Christmas and Santa have become conjoined twins in the minds of so many young children.

A friend recently told me a story about taking his granddaughter deer hunting for the very first time. She was only 5 or 6 years old. After a long day of seeing nothing in the woods, they were headed home in their pickup truck. Suddenly a big buck leaped across the road in front of them barely escaping a truck to buck collision. After the near miss he noticed his granddaughter peering out the windshield, looking intently up into the night sky. “What are you looking for, honey?” he asked. “Santa Clause” she answered, looking heavenward. And she was serious, bless her little heart. Thinking the big buck may have been Rudolph, she fully expected a sleigh with gifts to follow.

We may smile at the story, but precisely what made that little girl look heavenward expecting a Santa-sighting warrants our consideration. How did Santa go from being a benevolent gift-giver in Turkey to a figure who is now all but omniscient and omnipresent?

Is it all harmless fun, like snipe-hunting? May I remind you that whatever separates the deepest longings of our hearts from the one true source of joy is a form of false worship. I know by now that some of my readers are already getting nervous. What kind of preacher would try to ruin Christmas for little children?

In America we have conditioned our young to believe in Santa. And let’s be honest, what child under the age of eight doesn’t want to climb up into the lap of a welcoming, gift-giving, white-bearded, fat man dressed in a red suit and share with him the inner desires of one’s wish list at Christmas?  It’s such a great photo op. Jolly bearded old men just seem to be more warm and cuddly – more trustworthy even, especially in December (and even more “specially” if your parents don’t seem to be that interested in your Christmas list). Santa listens! Santa cares. Santa provides! …or so it seems to the young of heart. Santa brings us the toys!

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Decades of Santa myths and movies have promoted the notion to our children that one man, living in the North Pole, along with a few dozen elves and a team of flying reindeer, can satisfy all the selfish, toy-filled desires of every child in the world. And all in one night!

As for me, I wasn’t so sure.

Call me a doubter, but early in my life, living along the Amazon River as a missionary kid, I had my reservations about Santa. I doubted he would ever read my wish list. I doubted he could ever find my little jungle village in the night (or land on my house without a bed of snow for his sleigh). I was probably overthinking things, but I had concerns about how he would adjust his entry for houses without chimneys.

Even with all his mystical powers, I doubted he would know that for Christmas I desperately wanted a facão (Portuguese for “big hunting knife”). I doubted he even knew what a facão was. Probably didn’t speak Portuguese at all! But the big knife is what I wanted with all my heart! Did they even have them in the North Pole? I doubted it. I doubted that he knew the conflict I was having with my father about whether a boy of my age should even have a facão. Could Santa really understand that in the tropics, kids my age needed a big knife? Would he side with me or my father? Did he know that in the jungle there were things that needed to be hacked at, slashed at, hunted down, and vanquished . . . like my brother, Larry?

Even at an early age, I was a Santa agnostic. Looking back, I am very glad that my missionary parents confirmed my gathering doubts by telling me, “There is no Santa Clause, and you will not be getting a big knife for Christmas!” The truth about Santa notwithstanding, this news came as great relief to my brother Larry whose leg I had recently set on fire. Camping accident I always said. According to my thinking, if Santa did exist, he would have brought me that big hunting knife. Therefore, I doubted his existence from the start.

Parents, may I suggest a few good reasons to be honest with your kids no matter what the age or issue:

  1. Honesty is commanded by God.

Romans 12:17 says, “Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” We could certainly add “and children, too.” Though a case may be made for a historical Santa Clause, the myth has far outgrown the reality.“Thou shalt not bear false witness” is not negotiable at Christmas time. Keeping secrets about what’s under the tree is not the same as lying about where they came from. One is delaying the truth while the other is promoting a deception.

  1. We are to avoid profane, vain babblings and old wives fables (myths).

1 Timothy 1:4, 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:16, Ephesians 4:14 – These passages and others speak of empty talk and speculative speech that have no basis in truth. The Greco-Romans held a huge market in mythology. Paul was always trying to untangle them from these foolish stories, for they only led to more senseless talk and sinful patterns of behavior. Five times both Paul and Peter condemned the promotion of Greek and Jewish mythology as counter-productive. Our young children have great difficulty separating fiction from fact. It is vital to be trustworthy and straightforward with our little children. If Santa isn’t real, tell them that – you won’t destroy their childhood by separating them from non-realities. We found it wise in our home to simply say, “This is just a fun story, it’s not really true like the Bible is.” If they have friends who insist that there is a Santa Clause, we never made it our mission to start a debate with the neighbors about it. Though it may sound boring to say to a little neighbor, “At our house, Mommy and Daddy buy the presents” it is, at the least, truthful.

  1. Gifts and gift-giving have heavenly meaning and our children need to know that all good gifts come directly from God.

Don’t share God’s grace and glory with Santa. James reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes from above and cometh down from the Father of Lights (a reference to heaven and God, not Santa and his workshop). Even the gifts under the tree have a transcending truth attached to them. Those gifts (and all good gifts) come because God exists and has given us all things freely – provision, life, hope, joy, and peace. Our little saints are just like all other sinners, drawn to material gifts because they believe that in them they will find real joy. What we delight in leads our worship. Children are drawn to Santa because they believe him to be a real joy-giver. Instead, we are to embrace the true Gift-Giver and see him alone as the “unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

What God provided in Christ surpasses all ability to express or contain in a box. While gifts aren’t evil, all temporal gifts fade and lose their luster. Christ alone satisfies. Paul used the example of the generosity of God as the ultimate motivator in his own ministry. Highlight the joy and blessing of giving over the joy of receiving this Christmas. Point out that God is the source of all we are and hope for. As little fingers open bright packages, push them to find joy in the Giver of the gift. Lead them to say, “thank you” to both the human and the divine givers.

  1. Don’t let the true wonder of Christmas be high-jacked by flying reindeer!

How much of your Christmas celebration is legend? Fun and creative tales have their place, but the narrative of Christ’s coming is beyond compare. Is he the Darling of Christmas? His is the greatest story ever told. How far God reached down to rescue those who were lost! John declared this wonder in these words, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Heaven, with its gates of pearl, is better, by far, than the North Pole. Christ, the King, wearing the scarlet robe of redemption, is more worthy than all red-suited imposters. His gifts more wonderful than all the gifts carried by a million sleighs, the virgin womb and cattle stall more mysterious and marvelous to the world than a dusty chimney. The angels were a more brilliant and beautiful choir than a host of elves could ever be. And what was placed on Calvary’s tree was so much more wonderful and satisfying than what is under any Christmas tree.

Parents, how easily our children follow trinkets when true treasure is what they need! I am not suggesting that we cancel Christmas and outlaw Santa. What I am saying is that we must always be guarding what fills their little hearts with wonder.

Let the sparkle of that glory light fill your home as you tell them of a sky full of angels, a baby born of a virgin, a gift so wondrous that in its fullness the dark sky filled with light. Let all other gifts pale when compared to the Father of Lights. Let all fables bow and flee in the face of this one true love story: Baby Jesus is here, and he will never leave or forsake us. Kneel at the cross and marvel at such a Gift. And better than an annual visit in the night, wonder at this; he is planning to take us home to heaven for an eternal day. May this wonder be enjoyed in our celebration this year and always!

  1. Re-emphasize gift giving over gift getting!

With their tiny faces pressed against frosty windows on Christmas Eve, our children have been taught that Santa’s soon arrival will guarantee their happiness. They go off to bed with visions of gifts dancing in their heads.

“Remember, it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

Love and lust are not the same, but they often visit our Christmas celebrations with competing agendas. One suffocates grace and the other ministers grace. Not to be the Christmas nudge here, but maybe it’s time to introduce your children to a new Christmas sleigh. Hitch it to an eternal mission and send it on to the North Pole, North America, North Africa, or the next-door neighbor’s house. Fill the gospel train with your children, their spiritual gifts, and their true mission in life. Go into all the world and declare the Good News. Ours is a gift–giving mandate. Start young! Tell them to go and go quickly, the day is far spent and the night is coming when no man can work. Tell them to go into every highway and byway and offer the Pearl of Great Price, Living Water, Bread of Heaven, and the Anchor of Hope. Tell them this is the meaning of Christmas, because Love gives. This Christmas find a family project where the only motivation is to bless someone else with no hope of a return. Be intentional with the Hope of Christmas.

One December, while living with my missionary parents on the Amazon, we gathered on Christmas morning in the living room for our usual gift exchange. Every child in our family was hoping for what every child expects at Christmas – toys!  

We found instead, the unexpected. Not a single gift was anywhere to be found. Imagine…four broken-hearted kids with no gifts to open! Our parents, with tear-stained cheeks told us, “This year, things have been really tough. The money is tight, and we have nothing under the tree to offer you, but what we have given you is Jesus. Enjoy him! You are his forever, and he is yours.” We sang and prayed and rejoiced in the Gift beyond words.

And now that I think about it, it was our best Christmas ever.