It was from this giving spirit that the legend of Santa Claus arose. Sadly, this "new and improved" version of St. Nicholas misses out on the most important aspects of the saint's character. This article on The Real "Santa Claus" describes exactly my thoughts on how we have turned "a classic tale into a shallow, sentimentalized version for mass consumption":
"Somehow, the power of modern culture turned him into something quite different. A human saint was replaced by a jolly old elf. A patron of the poor became a judge of who’s naughty and nice. A church bishop became the CEO of the world’s largest toy factory. A man who walked among his parishioners and served the people in his community became a cosmic delivery man who visits everyone everywhere on one night during the year in his magic sleigh. A saint of the church became an icon of popular culture and a vehicle for commercialism. A story rich in human experience became a modern fairy tale we trot out every year to try and put some magic in our children’s eyes during the season."It is precisely this discrepancy that has prompted us to leave Santa Claus out of our Christmas celebrations. There are no gifts from Santa, no threats of naughty lists and nice lists, no trips to the mall to ask for presents.
Instead, we talk about St. Nicholas. We celebrated St. Nicholas Day by buying an Angel Tree gift for a child, commemorating the saint's reputation for secret gift giving and charity.
St. Nicholas can help us draw our hearts to Christ. He reminds us of the life that Jesus commanded us to live, caring for the poor and orphans, showing compassion to our neighbour, not needing recognition for our charity.
Santa Claus asks what we want, not what we can give. He asks if we've been good enough to deserve a gift, not offering it freely to all. He tells us that he's watching us, not God.
He's actually kinda creepy.
I understand the desire to make Christmas a magical time for our children. I hope that I am doing that myself, that Christmas will be a time of wonder and delight for them, full of good memories and strong traditions. I believe I can do that without Santa, without magical elves, and without the external pressure to "be good or Santa won't leave you any gifts".
But most of all, I cannot bring myself to mislead, or outright lie, to my child. I won't tell him that Santa left him a gift, because it's not true. I won't tell him the mischievous elves turned the milk green, because they didn't. I won't sit him on Santa's knee, because it's not Santa. It's a cheap representation of the richly generous life of a godly man.
I can't reconcile sitting with my child as we read our Jesse Tree devotional over breakfast in the morning, with telling him elves came to do mischief in the evening. I can't reconcile telling him about the gift of Christ coming down to save us all with leaving gifts from Santa under the Christmas tree. I can't reconcile telling him later that yes, Santa was just a pretend game we played with praying that his faith in God lasts and grows through the years.
Perhaps my hesitance is largely because the effects of Santa hit a little too close to home for me. My sister remains without faith in God to this day because when she was finally forced to accept that Santa was a lie, after holding tight to that belief through the early years of her life, she concluded that the same was true of God. It was just a story to make people be good, just a nice hope to hold on to in the face of death.
I know many wonderful Christian families who are able to include Santa Claus and even elf magic in their Christ-honouring Christmas celebrations. I know many strong Christians who have fond memories of Santa traditions and whose faith wasn't at all shaken after discovering that Santa was a game. But for us, I cannot do it. I cannot cheapen the memory of St. Nicholas. I cannot use Santa as one more external motivator for good behaviour. I cannot encourage additional materialism during a season already rife with it. I cannot lie to my child.
I cannot assume that he will understand that one story is pretend while another is the most wonderful, beautiful Truth in this world.
How do you approach the idea of Santa Claus in your Christmas celebrations?