I am Santa Claus
How to: Talk about Santa in a Christian Context
“No he isn’t!”
“Yes, he is.”
“He is not! … he’s not fat enough.”
“Yes, he is.” … “Mr. Anthony, come over and tell them. You’re Santa, right?”
It’s that time of year, when faithful Christian parents and Sunday School teachers cower in fear at the looming presence of the-jolly-one-who-shall-not-be-named.
Going into this year, as the parent of two preschool-aged kiddos, I knew that the way we begin dealing with Santa in our house had the potential to be a big deal. I know this because each year, right around Thanksgiving, I begin dodging the land mine we face in Children’s Ministry about what we should do with Santa. Balancing how my wife and I have decided to tackle Santa mythology while also honoring other parents’ plans for how they handle Christmas legends is a tricky line to walk – but one that I’ve learned to have a bit of fun with. (more on that later)
A few weeks ago, I asked how other readers of this blog have dealt with Santa in their own context. Some told me that they refuse to mention Santa’s name altogether, others see the myth of Santa as harmless fun and a part of the spirit of Christmas, while a handful of others spoke of the fear that their children will be traumatically hurt by the Santa myth – one note in particular was from a woman who feared that her children might stop believing in Jesus later because, if she lies to her children about Santa, then her children will assume that she must be lying about Jesus as well.
The Santa conversation is one that I actually don’t mind having with children – but it’s one that I’ve learned to be particularly sensitive about. Here are a few things I keep in mind when Santa comes up in conversation.
Large rooms are diverse rooms
The larger the room I’m in, the quicker I change the Santa channel when it comes on. If I’m leading a small group discussion with children, I’ll let a conversation about Santa happen for a couple minutes, giving each child a few moments to share their Christmas traditions. I’m more likely to let that conversation go on in the group is smaller than 4 children. However, if I’m in a room with 30 or more children, I’m going to quickly go to one of my go-to moves to distract a crowd (juggling, a quick rock-paper-scissors match, or the turn-to-your-neighbor-and-answer-a-question move) to allow for a chance for myself or one of my volunteers to tell that child that we’d love to have the Santa conversation at a later moment.
In a large room, kids don’t hear everything that’s said and it’s not the best time to try to have a tricky conversation with a child. Crowd conversations rarely go well and are hard to steer away from controversial topics. The faster you can shift a conversation, the better off you’ll be. Just make sure to follow up with the child who had something to say at a later, more appropriate, time. They need to know you care about them… you just need to also care about the diversity represented in the group at the same time.
Patience is a virtue
I’m not known for being patient in all things. I show tons of patience to small children who can’t figure out how to tie their shoes, who forget how to hold a pencil or who ask the same question over and over and over. Those kids are some of my favorites. I’m less patient when I know that something needs to happen and that I can’t make it happen right away. Part of why I love cookie dough and hate cookies is because the dough is arguably just as good as a cookie and requires no baking time. I can’t stand puzzles because it will take me hours upon hours to create the picture that is right in front of me on a box.
I say that to say this – when Santa conversations come up, you need to remember to be patient. I meet a lot of 1st graders who believe in Santa. I meet less 7th graders who still believe in Santa. I meet even less 42 year old adults who believe that Santa is actually coming down their chimney this Christmas. I’m more interested in raising children who will grow up to be adults than children who will stay happy 7 years olds forever. Don’t be afraid to listen to a child’s ideas about Santa and talk with them about traditions your family has at Christmas. I often spend time simply listening to a child’s questions or hypotheses about Santa. Then, if they want to hear, I’ll tell them about how my children get to be like Santa at Christmastime by giving away some of their toys to children who need them. I’m willing to bet that you’d rather be remembered as a grown up who cared about and listened to children, rather than someone who smashed their hopes and dreams about Santa.
I’m on “Team Parent”
One of the old models (I’m hoping that calling it an old model will help you rethink things if this is still the world you live in) of children and youth ministry was to hire people who loved kids but couldn’t relate to other adults. Just the other day, I was looking at an old job description for my position and noticed that there was a heavy emphasis on communicating with children and no mention of being in relationship with their parents.
When Santa comes up in conversation, I’m forced to remind myself that I’m on “Team Parent” – if I undermine a parent by going to far into a Santa conversation with a child, I risk undermining any future partnership with them. I try to remind parents at any chance I get that I’m on their team – showing some grace around the Santa conversation is a great way to live into that partnership. I like asking parents around Christmastime what their family traditions are – it’s a great way to get a feel for the pulse of the community you serve in. In fact, we recently asked our Homebuilders group (a parenting fellowship that meets on Sunday mornings at our church) what their family traditions are – but that’s a post for another day.
I am Santa Claus
It was at one of our after-school programs a few weeks ago that I was asked if I was Santa Claus. For context, it was one of my adult leaders trying to convince her daughter that I was Santa… a comical situation, to say the least. When put on the spot, I confessed to a table of 1st graders – I am Santa Claus.
You see, one of the best ways out of the Santa conversation, when there’s no other way out, is to claim to be him.
Within moments, children were telling me that my beard wasn’t long or white enough, that I wasn’t nearly fat enough and that I’ve proven myself to be far too clumsy to sneak in and out of so many houses without injuring myself. Clearly, I couldn’t be Santa. I’ve learned to play it off with a bit of heavy sarcasm and, the funny part of the whole thing is, I avoid lying to children while still giving them the space to believe in the magic of Santa. That day, a couple weeks ago, I replied by saying things like, “I have a whole month to grow a big beard,” … “I eat a lot of cookie dough in December, I usually pack on a few pounds between now and Christmas” … “You’re right, I would make a clumsy Santa. That’s a great observation.”
I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to how to deal with Santa in Christian contexts. Christmas, historically, did not begin as a Christian holiday. The church, in an effort to refocus a pagan celebration that many early converts were struggling with, decided to lean into the culture it existed in and tried to blend the sacred into the secular. It was kind of a brilliant move, if you ask me. And so, it’s no surprise to me, that there’s a “battle” for Christmas every year.
I do find it surprising that many Christians forget that we’re the ones who first took this holiday in an attempt to shift the focus of our culture from selfishness to selflessness. And, if you ask me, I think that the spirit of Santa is often more Christ-like than the spirit of consumerism that often surrounds the day when we choose to celebrate God’s greatest gift to us – His son, Jesus.