The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Santa Claus is coming?

There I was opening my big fat mouth in a recent Sunday School class designed for parents with young children.
As a pastor I have a certain credibility because God and I are close. As a parent, I'm less experienced than many of the other parents in the class. But that didn't stop me from talking too much about what to do about Santa.

I don't believe that parents ought to perpetuate the lie of Santa Clause. Realizing that your parents lied to you is awful.  Then turning right around and lying to your own kids is just plain cruel. So, I spoke with some authority about what I think parents ought to do.

Here's what I said:
"Don't spread the lie. Tell them that Saint Nicolas was a real person, a really good person, and one we ought to emulate. But he died. When we lie about Santa being real, and that lie is revealed, it causes our children to question if Jesus is real, too. If your kids already believe, help them realize on their own that Santa is a myth"

My wife Ashley was sitting next to me. She is my biggest critic, especially in public. Sure, she loves me without ceasing and in the privacy of our home tells me how much she enjoys my sermons and is my biggest supporter.  But she doesn't put up with BS. After my Santa smear campaign, Ashley grabbed my arm as if to get me to shut-up, and said politely to the group that we have not talked about this much as a couple and still haven't had to make up our minds on the idea of Santa and our kids, as if to soften the blow of my anti-Santa stance. She was perhaps right to do so.

Most people aren't on board with killing Santa. Maybe I'm not either. Santa can be fun and magical. I just don't like lying to my kids. I'd like to think that I could let my kids down about Santa honestly and sincerely, and then tell them that we're going to go on pretending just the same.

But what will they think about how we should view Jesus? I dare say there are many Christians who treat Christ in a similar fashion.

We talked in code in the car on the way home:         

Ashley: Our kids already believe.
Me: Not because of me.
Ashley: So what- they learn about it from kids at school, still they believe.
Me: Let's call him St. Nick. At least that way there's a historical figure.
Ashley: Is he alive?
Me: No.
Ashley: Good luck with that. 

Later that night my son Jacob asks me a question to check my resolve on the issue of Santa. He's always a critic:

"Daddy, what if Santa dies before Christmas? How will I get my presents?"

Ashley looks on with the grin on her face, and offers up support for Jacob, "Yeah Daddy, how can you answer that?"

Before I give my answer, I'd like to point out that I've had solid motives here. I don't want to perpetuate a lie only to disappoint my kids later. I also don't want to disappoint them now, only to have them be the ones to ruin "the magic" for all the kids at their schools. Imagine the phone calls that would come pouring in if Jacob's dad- the Minister- ruined Christmas for everyone...

So, I caved- but just a little.

I said; "I can't tell you what would happen if Santa died, but I can tell you that Mommy and Daddy would make sure you got your Christmas presents. Do you believe that?"

He said, "I know. I was just wondering. Thanks, Dad." And then he hugged me, unprovoked.

Nailed it.

The fact of the matter is, each parent has to negotiate their own traditions with their kids. It wouldn't be helpful to set your child as counter-cultural. They'll have plenty of time to do that in their angst-y  teen years. But here's where I think I have firmer footing: We don't have to always give our children answers. The number one thing that happens when you grow up is learning how few things in life have easy answers. When you're a kid, the world can seem simple. But the older I get, the simple things- like how eating gives you energy- have become extraordinarily complex answers.
Imagination is a good thing and arguably a dying art in our culture.
So I say this: Resist the impulse to give answers to mystery. When your child asks you how Santa can be at every mall at one time, or how reindeer fly, or how Elves survive north-pole winters, or how Santa reaches people who don't have chimneys, ask them to imagine it. I've even heard it said, "Well, how do you imagine it?"

If you have to say something about Santa, why not use the words, "The story goes" or even better "The legend goes" to preface your explanation. Because that's what it is: A Legend. We don't use legends much because our culture demands that we take a harsh stance on the historicity of everything.

The Real St. Nicolas was a wealthy man who felt convicted to give all his money to the poor after reading Jesus say, "sell all of your possessions and give your money to the poor." He was later made a Bishop at a young age, and eventually went on to be a the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, where they wrote the Nicene Creed and established a universal church that believed in the trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Because of this council, they were able to have another council in 333, which decided the books of the Bible.

The Legend of St. Nick usually involves a story of a man and his three daughters. The legend says that the man could not afford the dowry for his daughters so that they may get married. Hearing of this tragedy, Nicolas came at night and tossed a purse of gold coins in the window for the first daughter to get married, on the night before she came of age to get married. He returned the night before the second daughter came of age and tossed another purse of gold coins, which landed in the stocking of the daughter that was hanging to dry above the fire place. The father wanted to know who the benefactor was, so he stayed up all night before the third daughter came of age. On that night- the legend goes- Nicolas climbed up on the roof and dropped the coins down the chimney so as to go unseen.

This story is great on so many levels: a minister living up to his vows, daughters who get the life they could not afford, and a parent in distress who is aided by a Saint. Does it have to be true down to the last detail to send the message of near miraculous intervention by one of God's agents?

The reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. The spirit of the season is to spread peace and goodwill to all.

The real St. Nick died on December 6th, 343 AD. His spirit lives on in our imagination.

So my advice regarding jolly old St Nick.

1. Tell children about the real St. Nick.
2. Let their imagination be their guide- not you.
3. Learn to love legends again.

Merry Christmas to All, and to all a Goodnight. 


  1. Great post. Reminds me of a J.J. Abram quote: "Mystery is a way better pathway to imagination than knowledge." And after all, he created the island. I think that's a huge job for us as pastors... Keeping mystery and imagination alive in the age of "Nah, I'll just Google it." Again, great post, man. Loved it.

    And after all, without imagination, how is Jacob going to grow up to be the #1 draft pick? Or have Cam Newton as his backup? Or make Panthers fans forget about him? Or become Cam's mom's favorite player?

  2. My mom always told me (even now...) that Santa is in the goodness of people's hearts.

  3. Pastor--these are but some of the many lessons your boys will teach you! I just want to add for oral history's sake that at Augsburg for several years Pastor Troutman continued St. Nick's tradition. They children would leave their shoes and go play in the fellowship hall. While they played he put chocolate gold coins in their shoes. Also, an elderly member of the church (wish I could remember who) gave the children little paper bags of fresh fruit. I think that tradition has ended though. :-(

    1. Robi: I never knew about Pastor T. and his role as St. Nick; this makes me smile. The brown paper fruit and goodie bags were assembled and distributed by George Barkley and Lester Chapple when our children were small. This was such a generous act and one that was greatly appreciated by all! I'm not certain that this practice originated with them, I will check with Joyce Holton; but it seems to me (legend?) that I remember hearing it began with A.J. Safrit.

    2. Good advice! I want to go to your church, but it's a bit of a drive for us...

  4. Wonderful, as always. Ashley's rather astute as well.

  5. I appreciate the way you think, thank you for challenging us!

  6. I really never thought much about the lie aspect of Santa. What I most object to about Santa is the fear factor. We tell children that if they are not good, then Santa will bring coal or switches. This is opposite to the message of Christ's coming to all, bad as we are. So, we never mentioned Santa at our house. We never took them to sit on his lap. We had no images of Santa in our house. Funny thing is, our kids never asked about Santa.

    Yes, it was George Barkley and his Sunday School Class who provided the fruit for the children.