The Myth of Santa--Not So Harmless

by Pat Goltz

Christian parents widely practice the custom of teaching their children about Santa Claus: that he exists and gives them gifts for Christmas. Some parents think that it is harmless fun and some think that valuable lessons about giving are being taught in this way. Parents are really unintentionally teaching children to think that some being they have never met indulges their wants. It is debatable that this really teaches the spirit of giving. Some parents also think that they are teaching their children valuable lessons about behaving. But what they are really teaching their children is that God's love is conditional. They are teaching that we earn our salvation and that it is not a free gift from Jesus, Who died on the cross for our sins and paid the total price Himself.

As a person educated and experienced in Montessori, I learned that children would rather be grounded in reality than myth. Children expect their parents to tell them the truth. They trust their parents. They know that their parents have the wisdom they lack. They depend on their parents to teach them the rules, which is why children who are not properly disciplined will push the limits. They want to be taught, and it gives them great insecurity if they're not.

I remember one time when I was observing in a traditional preschool. One of the children decided to dress up for pretend. A teacher was standing nearby, and it appeared that the child wasn't sure which costume to select. The teacher told the child, "sometimes it's hard to decide which one to choose, isn't it?" I then observed the child off by himself saying quietly, "It's hard to decide; it's hard to decide." That teacher sowed the seeds of indecisiveness in that child, and didn't even know it. After selecting a costume, the child put it on and began his pretend, but the first thing you know, that same teacher had intruded in on things, and basically took over the whole thing, and the pretend that happened next was constructed by the teacher, not the child. We do the same thing when we teach Santa Claus. It is vitally important that we allow children to design their own pretends. Not only is this more honest, and allows the child to learn clearly the difference between fact and myth, but it greatly enhances creativity. Children engage in myth on their own knowing that is what it is. They do it to learn how to be creative, and to help them cope with life, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it teaches hope. And children who are grounded in reality by their parents won't make the mistake of thinking that their fantasies are real. But when we intrude, then all of these valuable lessons are lost. We do this in the name of other lessons of questionable value that we might not even be teaching. We should never seek to live vicariously through our children in such a fashion. If our own skills at imagination and creativity were stunted by our parents, this is no excuse for stunting those of our children in turn.

There's something that many Christians are missing about the issue of Santa Claus. That's the fact that parents are deliberately lying to their children (and their children usually believe and trust their parents on this issue), and when the children discover that it was a lie, many of them will refuse to trust their parents on the issue of Christ and the Bible. They'll label that a lie as well. As they say, "There's no believing a liar, even when he is telling the truth." We don't do a service to our children when we lie, even in fun, and lying (except to protect innocent human beings from death at the hands of tyrants) is a sin, and the mere fact that parents do it in fun or because they think it is good for children, or that they want to teach life's lessons (which is what the Bible is for!) or for any other supposedly good reason, is still lying. It is still deceiving children. And the notion that lying to teach valuable lessons, or for any other such reason, is acceptable, is nothing more than pure situation ethics. It is anti-biblical.

I am so glad my parents never taught me about Santa Claus. They taught me that people believe in him, but it's only a myth. And besides, the only Person we are to believe in is God. He is the Source of all our blessings. And He wants children to honor their parents. Knowing that what they need or desire comes from their parents is helpful. My parents made doubly sure that we didn't believe in Santa Claus by having our Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve. This was common practice in the German community where my mother grew up, and it was the reason for it, as far as I can determine.

In the book Faith of the Fatherless, Paul C. Vitz writes that people whose fathers are abusive or absent find it hard to believe in God as our Father. Most prominent atheists had absent or abusive fathers, and most prominent Christian thinkers had loving fathers. Are we doing children a disservice by teaching them that their Christmas gifts come from a stranger instead of from their own loving father? And what are we doing to children who visit "Santa" in a shopping mall and find him frightening? What is that teaching our children about our loving Heavenly Father? And most parents know that some children find "Santa" frightening. By the time they discover their own child is afraid of "Santa", their child has already been traumatized. What are they teaching their children about their willingness to protect their children when they insist that their children visit "Santa"? And what does that teach the children about God's protection?

And what are we doing to our children's political views when we teach that our needs come from some remote sugar daddy? Isn't this the perfect prescription for accepting socialism, which means government providing for us?

Finally, if we can give the credit for our Christmas gifts to some myth that had nothing to do with them, then is it such a far stretch that we can give the credit for the creation of life to evolution instead of God? The education in faulty logic here has widespread implications.

The public schools usually promote Santa in some way. This is a religious exercise. Santa requires faith. So this is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. But the schools get away with it because Christians are silent, just as they get away with promoting Halloween.

If we as Christians are going to prevent the infringement of our religion in the public schools and in other arenas, we must first start by understanding the way in which we infringe our religion ourselves. And if we are going to pass on our Christian faith to our children, we need to be consistent. If we lie to our children, and then tell them lying is wrong (and some parents will even say this to children who are constructing their own myths and then telling each other that this is the truth, or who tell whoppers otherwise), we are being hypocritical. And in the final analysis, we have just sowed the seeds of destruction of faith in our children.

Think about it.