It was an honest mistake. When the singer forgot the line to the song, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but when the vocals came back strong, the irony floored me. At this particular gathering, a group of musicians was entertaining a religious group gathered to celebrate Christmas. They sang sacred and secular tunes. No problem there.
As they sang, “Silver Bells,” the crowd of Southerners sang out nostalgically about this white fluffy material called “snow” that is rarely ever experienced in our geographical location.
“Hear the snow crunch
See the kids bunch
This is Santa’s big scene
And above all this bustle
Silver bells, silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them sing
Soon it will be Christmas day”
Those are the lyrics of the song, but the singer must have lost the place in the song, and so the first two lines of the second stanza lacked lyrics. While the singer searched feverishly through the lyric sheet, finally, the spot was found, and the vocal burst into the microphone:
This is Santa’s big scene! And above all this bustle you’ll hear…
I don’t know why, but the lyrical slip caused a legitimate twitch in my soul.
The Problem with Santa
I think I cringed because the blunder revealed a true reality for many of us concerning Christmas.
Christmas has become Santa’s big scene, and Jesus has been reduced to an honorable mention.
If that statement offended you or caught you off guard, please be patient with me. What I am about to share with you is a question I have been asked numerous times. I am not posting this to create controversy, but I want to share some responses I’ve given during healthy dialogues with others.
We don’t celebrate Santa at our home. Before you label me a holiday heretic and a Christmas curmudgeon, I would appreciate you considering some of my reasons.
If your family celebrates Santa, I am not here to confront you. In fact, you can discontinue reading this post at any time. If you are still with me, I want to encourage you to think, though. I do want you to evaluate the state of Christmas with me:
- Listen to radio stations and notice how often songs focusing on Jesus are played. Most songs on secular (and even some sacred) stations focus on nostalgia over nativity. Santa, the reindeer, Frosty, and the gang are preferred over Jesus. Christ is so offensive in our times that we focus on the most peculiar things as a culture regarding the “holidays.”
- Observe decorations and notice how commercial and cartoonish the whole ordeal has become. The decor is designed to make children obsess over the make-believe rather than believe in the one who should be their obsession.
- Consider the time and realize how much of this season is focused on temporal trinkets rather than eternal value. The most wonderful time of the year has turned into the most stressful time of the year because we are too busy making sure we will go into too much debt for too many people. We are so focused on stuff that we neglect focusing on Jesus.
- Evaluate your teaching and understand that much of what we teach children is a North Pole version of Karma which teaches kids to be kind in order that they get stuff from Santa rather than be pleasing to Jesus. We try to enforce a version of morality upon them based on what Santa will give rather than what Jesus has already given.
I know that these traditions may appear harmless. I believe people have good intentions, but regardless of motives, we must consider the danger regarding our celebratory practices.
If we are not careful, we can teach our children to cherish Santa and forget Jesus.
Losing St. Nicholas
Santa Claus is a lesser depiction of an actual stalwart servant of Jesus. Nicholas was born in A.D. 280 to godly parents who taught him the ways of the Lord. After their sudden death, he inherited his family’s wealth and decided to do something good with it. He helped out some families with gifts, and some traditions said he passed some of those gifts down a chimney. He was a preacher and theologian. He was persecuted for his faith and beaten severely. There is also a story in which he punched a heretic in a council meeting – that’s my kind of Santa (more of his story can be found here)!
If you read the actual story about his life, he is much more noteworthy than the counterfeit fable. For a man truly committed to making much of Jesus, he would have been devastated to know that Christmas was spent making much of him. Santa Claus has become, for many, an honest distraction from Jesus.
Things to Consider
I am regularly asked by young parents regarding the Santa Clause dilemma. A growing number of adults feel pulled from every side concerning what to do. Traditions and expectations lean one way, and for many, convictions lean the other way. No matter how you decide to celebrate, you need to wrestle with certain issues. Regardless of your stage of life, I ask you to consider these things:
- Evaluate the message you are communicating. Children imitate what their parents celebrate. In fact, they imitate adults whom they love. For whatever reason, I have always been fascinated at how perfect strangers can come to my children and ask them about what they are asking Santa for Christmas. If Santa, gifts, and sugar are all I teach my kids about, I can’t bellyache when they become hyperactive gratification addicts. Consider what you talk with them most about regarding Christmas (Deut. 6:7).
- Consider what your celebrations say to families not as fortunate as yours. Imagine the school assignment after Christmas break: share what Santa brought you for Christmas. Through writings, drawings, and presentations, the rich kids apparently got richer, and the poor kids stayed behind. If we reduce Christmas to what Santa brings your children, then apparently, the rich kids are also the nice kids, while the poor kids are the naughty kids. This type of reasoning does not aid our culture at all. We must teach our children to display contentment with their family and with others (1 Tim. 6:6-8).
- Earning your children’s trust is of paramount importance. Above all else, you want your children to trust you (Prov. 23:26). I want to live in such a way that they never have to doubt my credibility. While many people will see the myth of Santa Claus as fun and harmless, I have known stories of children who learned to distrust their parents as a result, especially if the reasonings for Santa were the same as the reasonings for Jesus (more on this in a moment). Children associate things differently than adults. Throughout the challenges of their lives, I want them to be sure that my voice can always be trusted. Make sure you earn and maintain their trust. Considering this issue, you must consider how your actions determine your family’s ability to stay obedient to the 9th and 10th commandments (Ex. 20:16-17).
- Don’t ruin another family’s tradition. If you are a family that doesn’t celebrate Santa Claus, don’t ruin it for other families. If you do celebrate Santa, don’t demonize a family that does not. Even if you have valid reasonings for your convictions, you lead your family and let them lead their family (Deut. 4:9). You aren’t responsible for how others raise their kids.
- Someone else’s decision is not necessarily a criticism of your decision. If the next generation in your family doesn’t celebrate just like you did, that doesn’t mean they think they are better or wiser than you. They are just doing things the way they think they should be done with their kids at this point. Provide them the freedom to do that.
- Differentiate between Santa and Jesus at all costs. Too many parents teach stories about Santa without acknowledgment that they are robbing attributes from Jesus. Parents teach that you better be good because Santa is watching and knows what you are doing (omniscience), he can be everywhere at once (omnipresence), he can be near to us (immanence), he does not age (infinity), he does good to all people (providence), and so on and so on. With this figure, you cannot see him, but if you don’t believe in him, you will not get good stuff from him. Then one day, you tell them that all those things were made up about that invisible being. What stops them from thinking you were making the whole Jesus thing up, too, since the reasoning and motivation for both individuals have been the same?
We decided not to celebrate Santa in our home. I am hesitant to share that because whenever I am asked about it, I am treated as if I partnered with the Easter Bunny to kill the Tooth Fairy (which, by the way, we don’t celebrate either). If I’m honest, I believe I have gotten more eyes rolled from the church-going type at the fact that we don’t celebrate Santa practically than I would if we neglected to celebrate Jesus practically. People can be oddly passionate about Santa Claus. If you feel as if you must become a Santa evangelist to those who don’t want to partake, you may be taking it too seriously.
When asked about Santa Claus by a listener, John Piper submitted this question boldly, “My question is this: How could we possibly even think of giving our children a bowl of bland, sugarless porridge when they are offered the greatest meal in the world? Why would we give them Santa Claus when they can have the incarnation of the Son of God?”
As we began our family, abstaining from the whole deal was a conviction that we had. We were going to tell our kids about Santa, but we were going to tell the truth about Santa from day one. That doesn’t mean we don’t have fun or let our kids have an imagination (if you know my kids, you shouldn’t worry about that). We watch movies about Santa. We sing songs about Santa. We go and take pictures with Santa (when he doesn’t look too creepy). We also have warned them not to talk about it with people outside our family with respect to their traditions. They have honored that promise. At our home, we celebrate Christmas, but we don’t make a big deal about Santa.
While Santa is fun and harmless to some, he has become an idol for many.
If he isn’t your idol, then you shouldn’t let that statement offend you. If he is going to be present in your celebrations, have at it, but don’t let him crowd the babe in the manger. If you can have fun with Nicholas and worship Jesus, let that be after thoughtful and prayerful consideration. Regardless of where you stand, make much of Jesus on Christmas and every other day because he is a greater truth than any story we could ever make up.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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