Risking belief in Jesus by encouraging belief in Santa

  • This article is based on a recent interview with UCB Radio, where Jon the freelance theologian was asked whether Christian parents should encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas / Santa Claus.

    A recent news story about a child’s letters to Santa being discovered 80 years later offers a great glimpse into childhood in the 1930s. The 5 year-old girl who wrote the letters asked for “nice toys and a hymn book”. How many kids would ask for a hymn book now? (In fact, who uses hymn books now that we have PowerPoint?)

    But should Christian parents encourage their children to believe in Santa Claus? I think it’s a dangerous game to play. I recently read an atheist blogpost describing Santa as “the ultimate dry run” and encouraging their child to dismiss belief in God. It’s a thought-provoking read.

    The reason it’s a dangerous game is because we encourage children to believe in someone they have never seen, tell them that this person knows whether they have been naughty or nice and that he will reward (bless) them with good things. Then they learn Santa doesn’t exist.

    But on the other hand we insist that Jesus is totally for real. Most Christians want their children to believe that. But what kind of precedent does the Santa story set?

    Parents can still talk about the real St Nicholas who inspired the legend. It’s an interesting story, how St Nicholas became Sinter Klaas, who became Santa Claus, who become popular when Coca-Cola started using him in adverts. You can do all that without encouraging belief in Santa as a present-day reality.

    Because ultimately there is enough awe, wonder, and if we want to use the word, magic, in the Nativity story without talking about Santa. We have huge stars in the sky and angels and mysterious wizards (the word in Greek is magi, from which we get the words magic and magician in English) bringing gifts. There’s a centuries-old prophecy and people having strange dreams, and donkeys and sheep for little kids to dress up as. With all that, we really have no need for Santa in the story at all.

    What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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    1. Helen Dec 12

      I’m completely against telling children to believe in Father Christmas. As parents you cannot control when and how they will find out the truth and you cannot control their emotional reaction and thinking when they learn that you lied to them.

      I can only tell my story. I was told at school at the age of 5 that Father Christmas wasn’t real. My parents tried to convince me to continue to believe because they wanted to preserve the innocence of childhood for a bit longer. It didn’t work. After weeks of thinking about this problem and questioning every angle of the story they eventually admitted the truth. At the age of 5 I felt deceived by those I had trusted most. My father’s explanation that they just wanted to have an excuse to buy me more presents without spoiling me didn’t wash as it made me realise I was a separate individual they didn’t know or understand. It was a shock to realise they didn’t know that I would have preferred less presents to being lied to. My childhood ended that day. I separated myself emotionally from my parents, accepted the minimum amount of parenting, care and love from them that was necessary. I was in a permanent state of being ‘on guard’ against any emotional ‘intrusion’ from them or attempts by them to penetrate and understand how I thought or felt about anything. I controlled, as best I could, exactly what I allowed them to experience of me, whilst knowing that there had to be some ‘give’ all the time I was a child and had to live under their roof as a dependent. I left home as a teenager.

      My parents decision to lie to their only child about Father Christmas, and to try to perpetuate that lie for as long as possible, destroyed my childhood. It denied them the rewards of parenting. It denied my mother the normal mother-daughter bond and relationship she expected and wanted. I reached adulthood never having experienced being loved because I had never allowed myself to have that experience. That had a negative impact on my adult relationships and was a contributory factor to my decision to never have children and my parents never experiencing becoming grandparents.

      Had my parents reacted differently when I first questioned the truth of Father Christmas things might have turned out differently.

      I recognise that my reaction was unusual and extreme, but I am not alone. You cannot control when and how your children find out you are liars. You cannot control how they will react to that fact. Why take the risk of lying to someone you love?

    2. Jon the freelance theologian Dec 13

      Thank you for sharing your story.

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