What Mark Driscoll Tells His Kids About Santa

image by Patrick Mahoney

I was sent this post by Mark Driscoll that originally appeared in the Washington Post.  Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  He is an excellent communicator and has a brilliant mind and commitment to the Scriptures.  When I saw that he wrote something on the issue of Santa Claus, I had to read it, because Amanda and I have certain convictions about the whole issue but feel as if we are pressured into the culture’s adaptation of the issue.  For anyone struggling with the issue, this is a great read.  Enjoy:

‘Tis the season . . . for parents to decide if they will tell the truth about Santa.

When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it.

Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don’t feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story.

Redeeming Santa

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.

What we are concerned about, though, is lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa’s lap for a holiday photo if they so desire. For parents of younger children wanting them to learn the real story of Santa Claus theVeggie Tales movie Saint Nicholas is a good choice.

The Truth about Santa Claus

The larger-than-life myths surrounding Santa Claus actually emanate from the very real person of Saint Nicholas. It is difficult to know the exact details of his life with certainty, as the ancient records are sparse, but the various pieces can be put together as a mosaic of his life.

A Gift-Giver

Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He was born into an affluent family, but his parents died tragically when he was quite young. His parents had raised him to be a devout Christian, which led him to spend his great inheritance on helping the poor, especially children. He was known to frequently give gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and presents.

Perhaps his most famous act of kindness was helping three sisters. Because their family was too poor to pay for their wedding dowry, three young Christian women were facing a life of prostitution until Nicholas paid their dowry, thereby saving them from a horrible life of sexual slavery.

A Bishop and Saint

Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul had previously visited (Acts 27:5-6). Nicholas reportedly also traveled to the legendary Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325.

Following his death on December 6, 343, he was canonized as a saint. The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory. He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians, with some two thousand churches named after him. The holiday in his honor eventually merged with Christmas, since they were celebrated within weeks of one another.

Misnomer

During the Reformation, however, Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. His holiday was not celebrated in any Protestant country except Holland, where his legend as Sinterklass lived on. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl. Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.

Folklore

The legends about Santa Claus are most likely a compilation of other folklore. For example, there was a myth in Nicholas’ day that a demon was entering people’s homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas cast it out of a home. This myth may explain why it was eventually believed that he came down people’s chimneys.

Also, there was a Siberian myth (near the North Pole) that a holy man, or shaman, entered people’s homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts. According to the legend, he would hang them in front of the fire to dry. Reindeer would reportedly eat them and become intoxicated. This may have started the myth that the reindeer could fly, as it was believed that the shaman could also fly. This myth may have merged with the Santa Claus myth, and if so, explains him traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplace mantles before flying away with reindeer.

These stories of Santa Claus were first brought to America by Dutch immigrants. In the early twentieth century, stores began having Santa Claus present for children during the Christmas season. Children also began sending letters to the North Pole as the legends surrounding an otherwise simple Christian man grew.

In sum, Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God. Our kids thank us for being both honest and fun, which we think is what Jesus wants.

Interested in more on Christians and culture? See our recent Q&A with Pastor Mark on Christians, adultery, and Facebook. You can join him on Facebook and Twitter.

Travis’ take: Even if this post causes tension for how you raised your kids or are currently raising them, there is grace and you can start turning the ship around.  Don’t let this cause regrets for the past, but if you agree with the post, let this change how you handle it in the future.  It was very insightful for our family!

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.

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10 Comments

  1. Alan Burchfield

    Thanks for posting this Travis. Sarah and I have been persecuted (In Small degrees) by our church and our families for not doing Santa with our children. Culture has placed Christ in the shadow of Santa if it’s even placed Him at all and we have tremendous convictions about it. I agree with Driscoll about redeeming the story of Santa and am glad that he (in typical Driscoll fashion) has taken on the task of revitalizing the true essence of CHRISTmas. This is the first year that we’ve really felt the weight of it all because our son is 2 &1/2 hrs old. I feel as a parent, that we fail to do that which is most important when we perpetuate a lie that is not only a lie, but one that decreases, if not eliminates, the beauty and blessing of Christ’s birth. I can’t remember a single Christmas that someone has asked me “what are you doing to celebrate the birth of the King”? Instead, it has always been, “what are YOU getting for Christmas”! Our kids will receive and give gifts, but we tell them where those gifts really came from and we only give because God gave us His Son and His Son gave us His life. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks and it encourages me to know that we’re not fighting this battle alone. Blessings.

    Alan

    • Thanks for sharing, Alan. I doubt you are alone. I think a great rule is that families should not be persecute any family for however they choose to handle it. If your family doesn’t want to hold Santa to be real, then don’t judge those who do. If your family does want to hold Santa to be real, don’t criticize those families who handle it differently.

    • I grew up in a home where I knew the true story of Santa, and for a short time believed in the myth as well. My family also emphasized Christ’s birth and read scripture every Christmas Eve. As an adult I am mostly annoyed by Christians who do not emphasize Christ at Christmas. It’s not that we also share the story of Santa, but that it’s all Santa and oh yeah Jesus. Thanks for sharing your point of view. I also love the way Mark Driscoll has worded this…redeeming. I believe that the real Santa is probably very disappointed with how he has been remembered.

  2. Babs Geoly

    I am 63 years old and my parents have yet to tell me that Santa is not real. I have never felt lied to or deceived. He is real as symbol of love and giving and kind thoughtfulness of others and is ONE of the symbols of Christmas. The symbols of Christmas can remind us of the true meaning of CHRISTmas.

  3. I understand that most, if not all, do not feel lied tomor deceived. However, the issue is not whether or not we feel this way or that, it’s an issue of what is truth? Chidlren can learn the lessons of giving and kind thoughtfulness without presenting fantasy as reality. If what they learn during Christmas is the crux of the issue, than Jesus is enough for that. I was raised with Santa and I harbor NO I’ll feelings for my parents who taught it to me. But, I also missed Jesus as the centerpiece of life because I was lost in the fantastical allure of a man bringing ME presents.

    We’re told that if we’re good, we will get gifts. However, the scriptures teach that no one is good. Children think concretely and we think abstactly. No wonder most of the lost world is trusting in their “goodness”, they’ve been told thy are good all their lives. This is not necessary nor entirely because of Santa Claus, but maybe a contributor. The issue is, first and foremost, that Santa Claus is a lie. There is no man that slips down a
    chimney, flies around the world, has elves, lives at the north pole and keeps a list of whose naughty and nice. It’s either a lie or it’s not. If I lie to someone, but they don’t feel lied to doesn’t determine whether or not it’s a lie. But even if it were true, anything that takes away from Jesus is an idol. We must be careful keep it about Jesus. Before santa, there was Christ. He was enough then and is enough now. I know this is a sensitive subject. This is a counter-cultural stance that is not popular, but culture MUST not dictate what is right. Please receive this with love and humility. I do not have Santa hanging by a noose on my front pourch, Nor am I on a quest to ruin Christmas for anyone. But I responded because it seemed as though you were saying that Santa is not a lie. This is a black and white issue. Presenting fantasy as reality is Baring false witness. Please consider these things. Blessings.

  4. Lori Mullwee Sealy

    Travis – thanks for posting. My husband and I have an 8 and 6 year old and this is the exact approach we have taken…literal​ly down to the letter. Our kids have enjoyed the fun of "Santa", learned a lot about history, discovered that Dad and Mom are going to tell them the truth (an important thing…my folks didn't on more than just Santa & years of atheism resulted), and most importantly have learned that Jesus is the reason, not just for this season, but for everything. Truly, just as we have been redeemed in Christ, we should redeem all for Christ. Again, thanks for posting!

  5. Lori Mullwee Sealy

    Travis – thanks for posting. My husband and I have an 8 and 6 year old and this is the exact approach we have taken…literally down to the letter. Our kids have enjoyed the fun of "Santa", learned a lot about history, discovered that Dad and Mom are going to tell them the truth (an important thing…my folks didn't on more than just Santa & years of atheism resulted), and most importantly have learned that Jesus is the reason, not just for this season, but for everything. Truly, just as we have been redeemed in Christ, we should redeem all for Christ. Again, thanks for posting!

  6. Shea Greg Deal

    We told Taylor at 7 because we feared just this – that (a) our kids would think we lie to them; and (b) they would think if we'd lie to them and tell them about a Santa who really doesn't exist, then we'd lie to them about a God too. After 15 minutes of crying, all was well and it set up the next 11 years of trust with her. Now Cameron is 7, so we'll do the same not too long after this one is over. It's funny how most of us 40-somethings never connected the Santa and God issue, but kids sure do today. Thanks for the post.

  7. I am sure each family will pray and decide for themselves what to do but I just wonder how many are just as willing to take the stand needed against Halloween. People don’t like to go against the grain. Halloween has so much that represents the satanic world and life yet churches have parties for such. I know we used to do that but took a stand in 1979 not to do it anymore and we are looked upon as the “silly ones.” I am not judgmental about it but just stating that take a stand is not easy when you have convictions. Not all of us are on the same spiritual level so we will have to be willing to love people where they are until they come to the place of understanding.

  8. Can I just say what a comfort it is to find someone who really knows what theyre writing about on the web. You certainly know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and know this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you certainly have the gift.

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