Light for our path: Lying about Santa and other mythical figures

“Why do Christian parents lie to their children about Santa Claus and other mythical figures?” 

James F. Pope

fear your question is going to drive people into two camps: some who agree with you and others who do not appreciate your characterization of them. aim to address both groups.  

Fact behind fiction 

Make-believe characters and fictional personages are commonplace in children’s literature. “Once upon a time” often leads to imaginary people like Jack of beanstalk fame, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. The Christmas season has would-be characters like the Grinch; Frosty the Snowman; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; and, of course, Santa Claus. 

While the chubby man in the red suit is fictional, there is some factual basis for “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” Some three hundred years after Jesus’ birth, a baby by the name of Nicholas was born in present-day Turkey. Nicholas grew to become a monk and then a bishop in the Eastern Church. Stories developed about the red-robed bishop who protected children and gave gifts to the poorest of them. After he died on Dec. 6, A.D. 343, people began honoring Nicholas on the anniversary of his death with gift giving.  

It appears we can credit Dutch immigrants to the United States for bringing traditions of Sint Nikolaas or Sinterklaas with them. Over time in our country, Sinterklaas morphed into Santa Claus, and the day associated with him changed from Dec. 6 to Dec. 24/25.  

So, while the fellow from the North Pole is make-believe, the man from Turkey is real. Children need to learn the difference. So do Christian parents. 

The gift above all gifts 

Where does this leave us with your question? Ideally, Christian parents are teaching their children: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Whether it is Christmas, a birthday, or any day gifts are given, Christian parents want to teach their children that God is behind every “good and perfect gift.” Ideally, at Christmas, Christian parents are teaching their children to give thanks to God for his “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)—his gift of a Savior in Bethlehem. 

I think you would agree with me that, with or without Santa Claus in the picture, Christian parents can easily distract their children from the real meaning of Christmas. They can lead their children to think that Christmas is all about presents under a tree instead of God’s gift in a manger. 

Christian parents who teach their children biblical truths and engage in Christmas cultural practices can open themselves up for criticism. I, for one, do not want to judge their motives or characterize them as liars. I do not know how they handle other make-believe characters and fictional personages that fill children’s literature. I do not know what kind of playful interactions they have with their children.   

A suggestion that might retain a cultural practice and remove distractions from the Christmas celebration is to move the traditions associated with St. Nicholas back to his day on the calendar: Dec. 6. If we separated our gift giving from Christmas, there could be less interference with the celebration of God’s “indescribable gift” of grace. 

But that’s unlikely. Instead Christian parents will need to keep pointing their children to the Gift above all gifts in December and throughout the year. 

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at Submit your questions there or to [email protected].



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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

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