This morning I was at a women’s Christmas event at my church where us young moms seated around our table struck up a conversation about Santa: do we do the Santa thing, when and how do we break the truth to our kids, etc. A handful of us at the table readily agreed that telling our kids the truth about Santa was a delightfully liberating decision…both for the parents and the kids.
Some of you might be wondering if this is the Christmas to break the news to your kiddos. If that’s you, I’d like to share some encouragement. If that’s not you, then friend, that’s okay. There is no judgment here; but there may be some helpful thoughts here for you to ponder for Christmases to come. However, for those of you that feel like the Santa thing has become more burdensome than enjoyable, perhaps it’s time to take to take Jesus at his word when He said “The truth shall set you free.” Yes and Amen. Obviously he was talking about much bigger things when he said that, but its application can reach even to this. Even in such little and trite things like magical sleighs and reindeer that fly and a jolly old Santa that keeps track of our daily behaviors and rewards or punishes us accordingly…yes, even in this, the truth does set you free.
Let me say from the get-go that I’m by no means opposed to the entire North Pole fairy tale. In fact, tonight’s family movie night feature film will be Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause, and Paul and I will laugh our butts off because, well, Tim Allen. We routinely quote Elf around our house (every.single.time. we have spaghetti someone asks for the maple syrup), and I know no movie more magical than The Polar Express. Jolly Old St. Nicholas is currently my favorite duet to play on the piano with my 7-year-old. Indeed, the fairy tale is magical and we embrace the fun. But we must keep it in its place…as fantasy, because the real truth about Christmas is so much more magical.
We first broke the news to our kids because our eldest, who was 7 at the time, was stressed out in the first grade hearing all about the naughty and nice lists. We had never discussed such lists at home (if there’s one part of the fairy tale we are strongly opposed to, it’s the list!), but she had heard so much about the lists at school that it was causing her great stress. One night in December, she sat at the supper table and started to cry because she was convinced that she’d been put on the naughty list that day. Paul and I shared “the look” that told us both the moment had come.
I put my hand on her shoulder, and said “Oh honey. There’s no list. You will receive gifts on Christmas no matter what, simply because we love you, we love giving you gifts, and because God already gave us the greatest gift of all.”
Big, shocked, relieved teary eyes looked up at us. “THERE’S NO LIST!!??”
Paul said, “No. And no Santa either. It’s all pretend.”
Utter relief washed over our stressed-out little girl. “Oh! That’s so great! I was so confused about how I could ever get on a good list when I probably do something bad every day!”
Amen girl. And that, my friend, is the freedom of telling our kids the truth about Santa. The truth sets us free indeed. Free from having to try to get on a good list. Free from causing our children the stress of wondering if they are going to receive gifts at Christmas. God’s gifts to us are out of pure grace, not based on a merit-driven list. Praise the Good Lord for that. This is the truth of God’s love exclaimed in Romans 5:8, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We cannot earn the gifts of God, and I refuse to let my children think that they must earn Christmas gifts from us.
Another way the truth sets us free here is financially. One conundrum we faced when our kids did think Santa was real was that at our house, Santa only filled stockings (He still fills stockings, by the way, just like "Toothfairy Mom" still comes too). At other houses, Santa delivered electric Barbie jeeps and iPads. Why? “But Mom, why does Santa give more to some kids than other kids?” And then the heartbreaking question that no parent can answer well, “But Mom, what about the kids in the world who don’t get Christmas presents? Why doesn’t Santa go there? Can't his sleigh fly in poor places?” Well my friend, here again, the truth will set you free. We simply get to tell our kids that every family decides for themselves how much money to spend on gifts, and we get to invite our kids to be a part of something bigger than ourselves when we send Christmas gifts to children in the world who otherwise won’t receive gifts.
One friend at our table this morning asked a great question: were our children bummed when we told them? If we take away the Santa fantasy, aren’t we taking away one of the most magical fantasies of childhood? Some of you might be wondering too...it's a great question. Thankfully, the answer is no, not at all. Teaching our children that Santa isn’t real doesn’t mean we’re taking the fantasy away at all. We’re simply teaching them that it is in fact a fantasy…just like TinkerBell and her pixie dust tree, and Iron Man and his Avenger cohorts, and Jack & Annie and their magic tree house, and those four amphibian ninja warriors that dwell in the sewers of New York City that my boys are absolutely obsessed with. Telling our kids that the fantasy is in fact just a fantasy doesn’t limit our kids’ ability to still love the magic of it.
And even more importantly…we must never forget that the real story is immensely better. There really is someone REAL who loves us, who sees us when we’re sleeping and watches everything we do. There really is someone who gives the greatest gift of all on Christmas…not based on merit but based solely on unconditional love. His name is Jesus. And the jaw-dropping real truths about Jesus are more wonderful than any fairy tale in the world. Tonight when we laugh hysterically at Tim Allen's portrayal of Santa, since our kids know there isn’t really a naughty list, we can have a conversation afterward about the grace of God, and that the gift of Jesus is for all of us. So we’re not taking anything away…we’re simply allowing the magnificent wonder of the babe in the manger to take center stage.
So...how do we break the news??
Pretty much everywhere you look in December provides an opportunity to start a conversation about Santa. Maybe your child is dropping hints that he’s not so sure about flying reindeer anymore. Maybe your child is confused why Santa delivers bigger and better gifts to so and so than he delivers to your house. However the moment arises, assure your kids that the whole Santa thing is actually based on a wonderful Christian man who put secret gifts in people’s shoes or stockings, as a means to share the love of Jesus. Let them know that the fantasy is not bad…it's actually rooted in something really great.
Rather than focusing on the things that aren't real (like flying reindeer), center on what is real. The star of Bethlehem, the angels singing glorious songs to the shepherds, the young virgin giving birth to the King of Kings, God putting on human flesh to dwell with us and save us. Set their hearts on what Christmas really is, and the Santa thing will fade in the distance. God himself said that he will not share his glory with any other (Isaiah 42:8). We do well to remember that as we struggle with the Santa thing. At Christmas time, just like every other day of the year, nothing compares to God’s glory and nothing can share his glory. Any slight disappointment about Santa can readily be changed to pure joy when they realize that because of the babe in the manger, there is no need to worry about a naughty list. The North Pole toy factory is nothing compared to a brand new star in the cosmos leading magi to worship the King. Flying reindeer are really cool, but pale in comparison to a multitude of angels showing up in a field singing praises to God, lighting up the sky like the northern lights times a million, and proclaiming that the long-awaited Savior has finally arrived. Let’s teach our kids that rather than focusing on making the nice list, let’s become like those shepherds in the field that night, for whom nothing else mattered as they raced to a barn to worship the babe-King born in a manger full of hay.
Because that’s just it. Nothing else matters.
Santa is indeed a fun fairy tale. But if you’re wondering whether or not it’s time to break the news to your kids…just go ahead and let the truth set you free. Everything in the world pales in comparison to the truth about Christmas.
There is no disappointment to be had here. Only joy, for the whole world.
O Come, let us adore Him.