Is playing Santa playing with fire?
First of all, thank you for your comments. After seeing that this was a much larger issue than I expected, I felt an obligation to write something more thorough than a Facebook post. There are many of you, especially Christian parents, who desire to teach your children correctly about life. I saw that many of you had dealt with this issue in the past and some of you are dealing with it now. I started a blog, so that I could help you think through this and many other issues in the future. I decided to wait until after Christmas was over before I posted this article. I didn’t do that because I was scared to do it right before Christmas, yet I didn’t want you to struggle with what to do so close to Christmas. I knew that many of you have true desires to be faithful Christians and I didn’t want you to make a hasty decision. Maybe this will help you decide what to do going forward.
Cammie and I wanted to make new traditions for our family, so I booked us two nights at the wonderful Callaway Gardens at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. We wanted to go see the once-a-year Fantasy in Lights. Even though I was just getting over the flu, we decided it was now or never for this year. Cammie was feeling a little sore throat, but we decided to try it anyway. We checked in Monday about 9:00 pm and went to see the lights at 10:00. They were beautiful! The total show includes about 8 million lights. There were many beautiful scenes and they must have taken many man-hours to put together. We saw tall nutcrackers, beautiful butterflies, animated rocky-horses, flittering fairies, and even a few trolls. Oh yeah, I can’t forget to mention all twelve scenes of the twelve days of Christmas! Something struck me while we were going through it, I haven’t seen a manger scene, nor anything to do with Jesus. I asked Cammie, “Is what we’re looking at a good representation of what our culture has made Christmas to be about?”
My parents told me pretty early on there was no Santa. Looking back on it, it was kind of a cloudy understanding at best. I recall, later on in church having a troubling thought. “If my parents have told me all this time that there was a Santa, but there really wasn’t, then I wonder if one day they will tell me this God-thing is not real either.” I understand there are many people who have never had those thoughts, but my desire is to do everything that I can to keep my children from stumbling. If that is not having a Santa, then we won’t have a Santa. After I learned the truth about Santa, I found out that some people didn’t tell their children that there is a Santa. Until a few years ago I thought they were weird. Honestly, some of them may have been a little weird, but that is another topic. And after this post, you may think I am a little weird.
I want you to know up front that my desire is not to be a “grinch”, yet as any Christian should, I desire to think biblically about all of life’s issues. I’m not trying to make any of you angry, though the gospel does convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). So, please know that I have good intentions in my question, “Is a lie a lie.” and also with this post.
With that said, I do ask that you please read this with an open heart and open mind. There are many things in our culture (as with all cultures throughout history) that are so engrained into the culture, that it takes an intentionality of thought to even think clearly about particular issues. If you are a Christian, then I would ask you to listen to the argument and then make up your own mind. Don’t let the culture nor the emotional excitement of Santa speak, before you have time to think through it yourself. These thoughts are not judgmental statements, but I believe they are based foundationally on God’s Word.
Cammie and I have decided we will teach our children the real story of St. Nicholas, but let me remind you that Christmas is not about St. Nicholas. The true story of St. Nicholas will be a side note with which we will teach our children during the Christmas holidays. We are not going to teach them that there is a Santa who is still alive. It wasn’t easy thinking of not doing the Santa thing. Both of us grew up with this tradition, and so it was difficult to think about not continuing the tradition. It is not easy because of my culture, my habit, and my desire to make happy memories. There are many family members who also have fond memories of Santa and other traditions during Christmas. These are understandable concerns, but lets think through it from a Christian worldview.
In one sense, if you are a Christian you do have great freedom in many choices in life. On the other hand, I would say we must be careful not to do what we think is right in our own eyes without first considering God’s Word. While talking about Micah’s idolatry, God’s Word says in Judges 17:5-6, “The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” God’s Word is not affirming that humans make good choices. We are depraved human beings and every part of our being is affected by sin. Our choices cannot be made based on what we think is right, but should continually be made by testing them against God’s Word. If you’re a Christian, then unlike the Israelites, you do have a King. His name is Jesus. I’m talking about the real Jesus, not the effeminate Jesus our culture believes him to be. He is the Son of God. The One who was humble, but is coming back in a much different way than He came the first time.
The Apostle John gives us a glimpse of Jesus when he comes back to be the King of his people! Revelation 19:11-16 says, “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, follow Him on while horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His rob and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Our Savior is coming back for His people. We should desire to live according to His Word and I hope that I will be able to give you some things to think about with this in mind. As I continued to search, I found not only was there one good reason not to do Santa, but an overwhelming cumulative effect of many reasons. Here are seven reasons why we are not going to play Santa at the Abercrombie household and why I would like you to consider not playing Santa at yours.
1. Because there isn’t one. Telling children that there is a “Santa” is a lie. Nothing else – a lie. We can try to justify the action, but in the end at some point we have to fess up that it isn’t true. Why else would we have to take special time to sit down with our children in order to explain what and why we told them something that wasn’t true? Sometime it matters a great deal to the children. Other times the children don’t blink twice. They go on with their lives like nothing ever happened. I dare to say, it is because they, in their intelligence, know that it probably isn’t true anyway. Throughout their lives, when will they know if you are telling them a truth or a lie? They may not know and as a result may do whatever is right in their own eyes — just as their parents did, and that’s not good.
I don’t think that it is ever ok to lie to your children or anyone else for that matter. God said in Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Some people believe that telling their children there is a Santa is ok, because Santa “isn’t really that big of a deal.” Maybe not, but what if we have allowed ourselves to become immune to sin? Is that possible? I would like for us to look at just a few instances from Scripture about the wrath of God against seemingly minute sins.
a. Adam and Eve. Was it really that bad that Eve ate a fruit from the tree? It was just fruit! Yes, it was wrong, because God had told them not to eat of the tree. Since God stated, that they shouldn’t do it, that is what made it a sin to eat the fruit.
b. Lot’s wife. Was it really that bad that Lot’s wife turned around? Yes, it was a sin, because God had told all of them not to turn around and look upon the destruction he was causing.
c. Ananias and Safira. Was it really that bad that Safira lied about the amount of money they sold their land for? Yes, this lie was a sin, because God had already said in Scripture not to lie.
Here is what God’s Word says about lying:
- Genesis 3:4 – And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die: (A lie indeed, which changed human history forever.)
- Leviticus 19:11 – You shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
- Psalms 119:163 – I hate and abhor lying: but your law do I love.
- Proverbs 12:22 – Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.
- Proverbs 14:5 – A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies.
- John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
- Acts 5:3 – But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
- Colossians 3:9 – Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds;
- 1 Timothy 4:2 – Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
- Revelation 22:15 – For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and makes a lie.
- Other texts on lying: Proverbs 17:7; Hosea 11:12; Proverbs 13:5; Zephaniah 3:13; Ephesians 4:29
All of the texts we find in the Bible about lying are negative in nature. We are commanded over and over not to lie.
We have considered a lot about the sinfulness of lying, but on the other hand, are there times when lying is justified? One friend gave me the example of Nazis knocking on your door in the mid 1900s. What if you were asked if you had any Jews in your home? What would you tell them? Is this a “just” time to lie? Another example is in Exodus 1:15-21 when the Hebrew midwives possibly lied to Pharaoh about the Hebrew wives birth times. Also, Rahab lied to protect the Israelite spies in Joshua 2:5.
I would like to refer you to this article by Bodie Hodge. He makes some very good points about these instances in Scripture that I believe they are very helpful. He states in objection to a “righteous lie” by saying,
“But consider for a moment that we are all already sentenced to die because we are sinners (Romans 5:12). It is going to happen regardless. If a lie helps keep someone alive for a matter of moments compared to eternity, was the lie, which is high treason against the Creator, worth it?”
He then gives the example where Stephen could have lied and possibly saved himself from death. In Acts 6-7 Stephen preached Christ, and men came against him. The hight priest says in Acts 7:1, “Who said ‘Are these things so?'” Stephen could have quickly used a “righteous lie” in order to save his own life and served Jesus for many more years. But what did he do? He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and they killed him! I’m sure he was aware of what they would probably do to him without the intervention of God, but he continued with the truth.
In the instance of the Nazis knocking on a person’s door. Even if you do lie with the best of intentions, it doesn’t mean that the life of your friend will be spared. The Nazis may plunder the house in search of them anyway. On the other hand, what if God desired to use the person speaking the truth as an opportunity to preach the gospel to unbelieving Nazis? We can’t talk all day about what ifs, but we shouldn’t be so quick to think that lying is justified in any situation, since God’s Word gives us a clarity in knowing what is right and what is wrong. I have never been put in this position and I do not know what I would do. I can tell you that I hope that I would be able to speak the truth with shrewdness and with Jesus on the tip of my tongue.
These ethical issues are very real and I understand that. I don’t believe Scripture gives us clarification that there is such a thing as a “just lie.” All of these Scriptural instances of possible justified lies are all in a context of preventing the murder of God’s chosen people. I don’t believe using this argument, or these examples, warrants parents lying to their children about Santa. Especially during a time they are forming their mental acumen, wisdom, and spiritual intelligence.
What we can take away from this is, “Be holy, for I am holy,” (1 Peter 1:13-16). This isn’t a matter of what we think is a major or minor sin, but what God tells us is a sin and considers a sin. God desires His children to “be holy, because he is holy.” We are His image bearers and should live our lives in accordance with what He tells us to do and not to do. Therefore, I think we should stay away from the sin of lying.
2. It promotes works righteousness, not righteousness by grace through faith. What are we teaching our kids when we tell them they will get presents if they are good? Actually, no matter how you act, whether good or bad, we still give them presents. God’s Word says in Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Yes, this pertains to our children, you, and me – all of us. None of us are good, and we know that, but we tell our children that they are – either by words or by giving them gifts at Christmas. Why do we do that? It sounds like another untruth (lie).
Santa promotes works-based righteousness, which could later cause your children to stumble. It is by faith we are saved, not of works. Children should do right and be “good” because God’s Word tells them to, not because of some made-up figure that is keeping tabs on them (which is also a lie). We teach children that there is a list of “good deeds” and one of “bad deeds.” In the end your good deeds side must have more than your bad deeds side. This teaches them an unbiblical understanding of good and bad. It teaches them that if there is more good than bad then they are ok. This is not what God says about good and bad. God’s Word teaches us that we are all bad and that none of us are good. From there, it teaches that Jesus was the only one who was good and that we must trust in his goodness in order to be saved from our bad (sin).
3. It teaches things temporal are important enough to be good all year for. What about things eternal? This reason is somewhat related to #2 – works righteousness. John Piper brought this to my attention in an article called Rethinking Santa. Santa insists that children be good (we all know they are not) in order to get temporal presents one day out of the year. It teaches them that they are to work on being “good” for the purpose of what they can get on this earth, instead of teaching them that eternity is much longer and that no one can earn eternity for them except for Christ. Earning eternity cannot be done by being “good” but it takes the penalty of sacrifice to pay for sins.
4. It distorts the understanding of the word “believe”.
5. You may think that I am crazy, but I believe in many cases we have created a god for ourselves. I believe this is the most important issue with Santa. The Santa many people have created in their homes today is one who has attributes that only pertain to the God. The Santa many have created is omniscient (all-knowing), which means to have a complete ultimate understanding. He knows when we are sleeping, awake, good and bad. He obviously isn’t limited by money, like God. Santa is omnipotent (all-powerful), which means that he is not limited by anything. He lives in the North Pole, makes millions of toys, and travels all around the world in one night. He can go down chimneys. Uh oh, what if there is no chimney? Well, he can just walk “through” the door. I think there is someone else who actually did that – John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Santa has the very attributes of God and this should make us question whether it is right.
“Sunday morning is the greatest hour of idolatry in the entire week in America, because people are not worshiping the one true God…but are worshiping a god formed out of their own heart by their own flesh, satanic devices, and worldly intelligence. They’ve made a god just like themselves and he looks more like Santa Claus than he does Yahweh.” ~ Paul Washer, sermon, “Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church.”
6. The “magic” in our child’s eye is not a good thing. I’ve heard and read so many things about the “magic” of Santa and the “magic” I see in my child’s eyes. I hate for this to be a real “spoiler alert” for you, but magic found in the Bible is only found in opposition to the attributes and abilities of God. This is seen very strongly in the story of Moses confronting Pharaoh before the Israelites were released from captivity in Egypt. God performed a miracle and then the magicians would copy that which God had done. They were workers of other gods in opposition to the real God. The One true God can always overpower any other workers of magic or sorcery. I do not necessarily see that you are teaching your children witchcraft, but I believe we must be careful not to break into the spiritual realm unwittingly. The truth is, untrue belief is giving them the magic in their eyes. The magic comes because they believe in things that are super-human. This being we have created has some of the attributes of God, and they like it! Who should bring the magical feeling to the child? Santa or truth from God’s Word in Jesus.
7. The focus is on us, not others. Yes, I understand we are doing it for the children, but look at it from a little different perspective. Even though they are children, they are still “your” children and not someone else’s. Paul tells us, as Christians, in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” The issue with Santa is that it makes Christmas all about them and what they are going to get for Christmas. We say it is about Jesus, but who do we dwell on during the months leading up to Christmas – Jesus or Santa? If we say we are really focusing on Jesus with our children then why is the conversation normally about Santa? Who do you take your children to get a picture with? Yes, I know Jesus isn’t here. Have we created a replacement for Jesus? If Jesus were here, would you stand in line to see him? Even pay to have your child’s picture taken with him. Oh, I know that you would all say yes, but would you really? Jesus said things like,
- “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17.
- “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his on household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:34-39
- “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him… When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?”… From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” – John 6:54-55,61,66.
If we want to teach our children what Christmas is about it should be the time we focus on the incarnation of God in human flesh in Jesus. This is what we should focus on. Knowing how good God has been to us we should use this time to be generous and gracious to others. I dare to say this means those who are truly in need. There are many brothers and sisters in Christ who live in much worse conditions than us and we should desire to help them during the Christmas time. Help others in your church who are in need. Help those who are homebound and in nursing homes. This should be a time of giving to others in order to glorify God.
The reality is, Jesus is here. He is here as the Holy Spirit. He is here, but do we take the time to be with him and his body (the church)? Instead of going to the mall to have your child’s picture taken with a man, it is much more important to have your children in Sunday school, worship services, and prayer meeting in order to learn about who Jesus is. If you are not gathering with the body on a regular basis, you are probably not a Christian. The writer of the book of Hebrews is clear when he says,
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting on another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25
The church is the body of Christ and if you are not there, as long as you are physically able, on a regular basis then you are not a part of the body. Being in church on a regular basis will not save you; but, if you are not there then it is a good indication that you are not a Christian.
Some of you have been doing Santa, but you believe the Lord has convicted you. You don’t have to feel terrible. Make it right with God. Repent if need be. Then change the way you do things to line up better with what you believe God’s Word teaches. Tell your children the truth and move on.
It isn’t a matter of whether Santa is ok or not, but rather it is a matter of what is most important to you. For Christians, there is a silver lining. Yes, you may have guessed it – Jesus (God in the flesh) came to earth. God was very good to mankind to send Jesus, His Son, to earth, to live, to die, in order to save lost sinners. Jesus is not the real reason for the season. He is “the” reason for the season. If He is not the reason for this season to you, then I would tell you to repent and believe in Jesus. Do not be deceived. Jesus said in John 15:5-6, “I am the vine, you are the branches, He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” This means that if you are a true disciple of Jesus and abiding in Him then you will bear good fruit. It does not mean that you can do good works in order to earn God’s love, mercy, and grace. God’s grace is a gift, but good fruit will be produced by a life that has been forever changed by God.
A Christian asked John Piper if they should allow their children to believe that Santa brings them presents at Christmas. One part of Piper’s response went like this,
“It is mindboggling to me that any Christian would even contemplate such a trade, that we would divert attention away from the incarnation of the God of the universe into this world to save us and our children. . . . Not only is Santa Claus not true — and Jesus is very truth himself — but compared to Jesus, Santa is simply pitiful, and our kids should be helped to see this.”
It may not be wrong to play Santa, but I agree with Piper, Santa is no comparison to what we celebrate that really happened on Christmas – the incarnation of the one, true, and only God. Why would we even consider diverting attention away from this great truth?
It looks like I am saying that it isn’t ok to give our children presents. The root of the issue is not giving our children gifts or wanting them to be happy. It is biblical to desire good for your children and to want to give them good things. The question is, are we compromising on God’s Word for the sake of it? I don’t believe we have to compromise God’s Word in order for our children to be happy and joyful on Christmas morning. We can give them gifts, but they must know the true reason for Christmas.
Thank you for considering my words. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind as to whether to play Santa at your home. My desire is that I have given you a biblical basis for why it is best not to do it. I’ll leave you with a word from John Piper.
“If being Jesus-focused is a killjoy for your Christmas, you don’t know him well.”
Other Resources to Consider
Below are a couple other links to good articles and audio on this subject from men whom I respect and are much smarter than me.