I recently received this question, and have yet to respond to the person’s email (please forgive me Jamie!). But it is a great question, and one that I think is worth sharing with a broader audience.
Below I will share a quote from Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church Seattle and the link to an article he wrote on the subject, as I have found it to be the most helpful and satisfying response to the question at hand.
But before I do, here is my initial two cents to contribute:
Santa Clause is an amalgamation of a lot of stories concerning a real, historic person. Over time, these stories have made it difficult to separate the truth of who he was, what he did, and why he did it, from the false accounts, reasons and motivations. Because of this, I am more prone to give grace on the subject rather than demonize the caricature or squash the spirit of finding joy in such a person.
So, like Driscoll, I hope and aim to redeem Santa for my kids. This means that I do not tell my kids that “Santa doesn’t exist,” or “Santa is the enemy” or that “Santa is just a marketers’ scheme to get parents to spend money on toys they can’t afford to please their children who will forget about them in a week.” I do tell them that Santa Clause is really a way for us to dress up, remember and celebrate a man who was so captivated by God’s love for him, that he couldn’t help but share it with others by loving them in return. This looked like giving others gifts as a way of showing that love.
At Christmas time, we celebrate the greatest gift ever given out of love, the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And we too celebrate just like St. Nicholas by giving gifts to others. Its ok to dress up and pretend (we do it all the time), but we are not visiting the real Santa when we go get pictures at the mall, nor do we think if we leave some cookies and a Coke, Santa will be refreshed as he goes from house to house delivering toys.
There is one area where I am likely to drop the hammer of error when it comes to Santa. That is the damnable lie that there is a list and if you’ve been good you will be rewarded, and if you are naughty, you won’t get anything. This is not how gifts work. Gifts are all of grace, or they are not gifts at all. This is the greatest lie surrounding Santa, and I believe it needs to be corrected and confronted at every turn. God did not give His greatest gift to the world because the world was more good than it was bad. He gave it (His Son, the greatest gift) because He so loved the world! (John 3:16). Anything else that reeks of receiving a gift because I’ve earned it is merit, not grace, and it has nothing to do with Santa, God or the reality of Christ’s birth during this holiday season.
Here is an exerpt from Driscoll’s article:
So, as the parents of five children, Grace and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories….We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.
Link to “What we tell our kids about Santa” by Mark Driscoll