December 24, 2012

Christmas Conspiracy: Should we Lie to our Kids about Santa Claus? (Reprise)

by Clint Archer

[Clint originally published this on Dec 19, 2011. We thought our commenters would like to reopen the debate, just for fun.]

I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.

We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.

We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”

But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty. 

Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a ChristianWe ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.”

Misinformation has a way of taking root in our memories. Do you picture the stable with oxen lowing on a silent night? Were the angels actually singing? Was there a villainous curmudgeon inn keeper? These details are not found in Scripture.

Three kings? Nope. How many seminary students have in their NT survey class been disabused of their favorite nativity character, the little drummer boy?

The popular mythology of Father Christmas, as we call him in Africa, runs parallel to biblical truth in our homes, until it dead-ends in one of the (hopefully) pre-teen years. But has the damage to parental credibility already been done?

A parody of a possible consequence is epitomized by that poor, traumatized kid who laments melodically, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I doubt therapy was needed for the child to overcome his confusion. But there does exist a subtle long-term danger, namely that of placing impossible fiction on the same shelf as impossible fact, and forcing our children to discern arbitrarily which is which, based on our flip-flopping propositions.

Is it any wonder that adults, who at one time believed their Sunday school teachers, eventually conclude that “The Bible sounds like a fairy tale”? These skeptics were expected to outgrow some of what they were taught by their parents. Why not more of it? Why not all that sounds impossible?

I never want my children to have this existential monologue in junior high: “Daddy told me about a six day creation, virgin birth, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, angels, and fairies. Then he said he was only joking about half the stuff. I felt gullible for falling for it. Mmm. I wonder if my science teacher is right about Evolution? What other nonsense has been fed to me as fact?”

So what do I tell my children when they see other kids queueing to meet one of the ubiquitous middle-aged, overweight men with fake beards offering a lap and a promise of gifts? I tell them the truth: “Look, it’s a pretend Santa! How fun.” This will be in the context of the conversation we would have had, where I explained that part of Christmas fun is pretending there is a man who lives in the North Pole and gives presents. I’ll also tell them about the real Nicholas who ministered in Turkey. Pretending can still be fun. I love fiction and imagination. I offer them Narnia too. But there is a thin line between fiction and fallacy. 

I want my children to grow up knowing that their dad never, ever lies to them. About anything. This may lead to some awkward moments in life, like a premature discussion about where babies come from. But surely adding a stork to the catalogue of misinformation can’t be a better tactic than opting for truth in every situation.

The precious attributes of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, are grotesquely caricatured by Santa-lore. Consider the lyrics that describe what our children think of this demagogue: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

I’m interested to hear your views. In the meantime, I have a nativity set to go re-arrange (the indeterminable scholars from Persia will only arrive in two years time, and they’ll show up at the “house” not the stable). Another bubble burst in the battle for truth; a small price to pay for not abusing the unwavering trust my children have in their dad.

What do you think, am I going too far?


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • John Willis

    Let’s add the whole Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem myth to the list of things to be eliminated from the Christmas story. I can’t find that anywhere in my Bible.

    • And the cattle are lowing, no crying he makes, inn keeper, etc. The biggest loss is the little drummer boy. I love that kid.

  • Richard

    “Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities.” “….(the indeterminable scholars from Persia will only arrive in two years time,…..”

    Yes, another perennial myth – the Bible says nothing about a guiding star at the time of Christ’s birth, but only two years after that for the indeterminable scholars from Persia.

    • Right. My take is that the star was guiding the magi on a journey that probably took the better part of two years to complete. Ever try walking from Asia to Bethlehem. The bus ride is like a month!

  • To your fundamental point: that we even have to debate the issue chagrins me.

    Perhaps if we phrased it thus? “Should a father ever persuade his children to believe something that he knows is not true?”

  • Taneil

    I knew I did something right when a lady asked my four year old if she was excited about Santa Clause and she immediately replied “There is no Santa Clause.” This older lady was taken a back by my child’s no none sense answer. The lady could not believe that a child her age did not believe in Santa.

    We do teach them about the real St. Nicholas and they thoroughly enjoy learning about him. And as to Angels Singing on High they hear from Daddy every year that their is no evidence that the Angels sing or that they take a feminine form.

    Thank you for the article and reminding me why it is so important to NEVER lie to my children.

  • Glenn Chatfield

    We refused to lie to our children about Santa. We taught about him as a fairy tale. We also explained the difference between a lot of the Christmas songs and what the Bible says. As for John Willis, the Bible doesn’t say whether Mary did or didn’t ride a donkey. There is nothing wrong with using some common sense about the modes of transportation during that time.

    • I’m with you on that.

  • I cherish my memories of “Santa”, and I shared that fun with my girls. Only after they were older did I begin to doubt presenting the fiction of Santa. By then, it was too late. But, we have had multiple conversations about the pretend Santa, Easter Bunny, & tooth fairy. They tell me they are glad we played those pretenses. My youngest daughter informed me that it was perfectly clear to her that there is a big difference between the reality of God and the pretense of Santa, etc. She has no confusion and seemed confused as to why I feared she would. I am completely honest with my girls about every single thing, and now even including the fun of Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny. We are also clear on what scripture says, versus popular culture & music.

    So, my personal assessment is that the pretense did not interfere with my girls’ trust in me. I explained as honestly as possible why we pretended Santa, and also how he relates to Christ. I always connected him to Christ, even before they knew the truth about him. And, so there is little that has changed, beyond the actual physical delivery of gifts.

    • I perfectly valid and defensible view. Thanks for sharing.

  • I felt as strongly as you, and our kids know that Santa is a fun story. But we have plenty of good friends, that we respect a lot, that have done Santa. I interviewed them, and for those of us who feel strongly about being no-Santa, I think it’s worth checking out their mindset.

    And just as important for us no-Santa families, I think we must be careful to not become arrogant, judgmental, and especially condescending in how we act towards our brothers and sisters. I know I’ve made this mistake in the past, responding to questions with a flat out, “We don’t lie to our kids.”

    • Joey, I’m curious: when asked, then, what is your response? Is it, “We don’t lie to our kids, but it’s perfectly OK for you to. It’s your ‘preference.'” I’m being a little sarcastic here, but it’s because while your right about not being unkind and divisive, it would be equally wrong to be accepting of lying, wouldn’t it?.

      • Well, my response depends on the context. But I have to remember that there are plenty of ways that I fall short as a parent. Should someone not accept me because I don’t read the Bible & pray with my kids everyday?

        The truth is we all fall short as parents. I think us no-Santa people (especially Christians) tend to feel morally-superior, and act that way.

        I felt as strong as many commenters in this post, that lying to my kids would make them doubt what I teach them about God. And I think we would all say that the most important thing we need to do as Christian parents is help our kids believe in Jesus. But I haven’t seen any evidence to support that teaching kids about Santa makes them more likely to doubt the truth about Jesus. It’s an unfounded fear that us no-Santa people have.

        If kids grow up in a home that is full of love, and where they see parents seeking and growing in Christ, they will overlook any of our sins — lying, laziness, or whatever.

        • Thanks for responding. As much as I disagree with the idea of children not being affected (at least temporarily confused and saddened) as a result of their parents lying to them about Santa, that’s not what I’m trying to get at here. What I’m trying to understand is why people think lying about Santa isn’t sin or why it’s overlooked. Admit it or not, when kids find out that their parents lie, about anything, they are communicating to their kids that it’s OK to lie about certain things. Therefore, they demonstrate to their kids that lying isn’t really that serious. Perpetually and intentionally deceiving children is not something I take lightly … there should be nothing but biblical truth coming out of our mouths, especially to those whom God has placed in our care. Being unwilling to condone a lying tongue is a
          far, far cry from acting “morally-superior”.

  • Stan

    Excellent advice for all parents & grandparents, thanks Clint.
    Wayne Grudem’s “Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit” – A good read to help us understand the true meaning of Christmas. Topics include: The Person of Christ: including the virgin birth—uniting full deity and humanity in one person while enabling Christ’s humanity to be without inherited sin—and the incarnation—the act of God the Son whereby he took himself a human nature. Available for FREE in ePub and Mobi formats here:

    • Great resource, thanks Stan.

  • “Daddy told me about a six day creation, virgin birth, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, angels, and fairies. Then he said he was only joking about half the stuff.”

    Clint, this is precisely why my home is 99% sterile of anything related to Santa (I allow my kids to watch Christmas movies like Rudolph, which accounts for the 1%). What justification is there to put Santa and Jesus on the same level? It really is discouraging to see Christians make a bigger deal about Santa than Jesus. As much as a parent tries to explain to a child, who expects a boat load of gifts from a fabricated, jolly fat man, why we celebrate Christmas, he/she will not see the main reason why we celebrate Christmas. To the child, Christmas is about getting a bunch of material things they don’t really need….

    How does one justify synchronizing Santa with Jesus and Christmastime? I fail to see how it is anything other than an outright lie to tell our precious children that Santa and his “elves” are real. If it’s a lie, then it’s sin. If it’s sin, then it is to be repented of. How is it that a Bible-believing Christian will admit that God hates liars (Pro 6:16-17), but then at Christmas, somehow think it’s OK to lie about Santa?

  • I’m all for telling the truth to Children at all times. In love, even when it hurts, or when it is disappointing. The truth saves.

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