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Most parents who have young kids wrestle with the “Santa question” during this time of the year. It is an important issue you can’t avoid since our imaginary and ubiquitous friend never disappears through the holidays. Since you are asking, may I suggest that you reframe your argument with another set of questions:
I aim to address all three of these concerns here, and I’ll start by using three of the more common categories within Christendom to think about your topic. Because you could answer the “Santa question” from different points of view, for simplicity’s sake, I will use the labels right, left, and middle and call them as follows:
This Christian collective embraces a separation mindset. The legalist perspective is to separate from the culture, which is not tenable since separation from the culture is impossible. It would be more accurate to say separatists practice selective or convenience separation. A real separatist creates a parallel and autonomous universe, which is impossible because you cannot escape the culture entirely. The so-called separatist picks how he wants to disassociate himself from the culture.
Typically the separatist will have a “list” of dos and don’ts regarding cultural engagement. For example, they gravitate toward those like them and create a sub-culture within the broader culture. It’s the micro within the macro. Usually, their standards (or rules) draw more attention to their anti-cultural worldview than the Christ they love. Instead of modeling the Christ-life by blending into the culture, they live counter to the prevailing culture—a parallel universe. I understand what they want to do and why they want to do it, but their lives become contradictory, creating extreme asymmetry with the world that is not realistic.
Nobody is a real separatist. Even the Amish have caved to the difficulties and challenges of separating from the world. They live in the world, imbibe from the world, and enjoy many of the world’s benefits. Just like the rest of us, they are participating in God’s world while enjoying those things in God’s world that do not have to be wrong.
This second group—on the left—typically reacts to the separatists. Often these people are children of separatists who felt suppressed by the extra-biblical rules of their parents. Their separated parents’ lifestyles did not export to them; the children chose another path. Many people in this group are either angry at or carry an air of superiority toward the separatists. I’m calling them liberals here for simplicity’s sake.
The worst-case scenarios are those who tout their freedom as an attitude and lifestyle outside biblical parameters. Ironically, they are not free from their past. When you talk to them, their history is their identity, not the gospel. Rather than the Bible informing their theology, their past experiences are the filter through which they see life: (1) what happened to them, (2) how it did not work, and (3) the wrongness of the separatists.
Their term of choice is grace over legalism, which is often an overreaction to legalism. It’s hard to appeal to them about obedience, discretion, and sin because they disdain critique. They see your analysis as judgment, harshness, rule-based, bondage, and heavy-handed authoritarianism. They talk more about grace and less about sin. Typically, they have weak sin categories because they don’t understand how the doctrine of grace and sin coexist and interact.
This third group works hard for biblical integrity and theological precision. They are not anti-culture or culture-centric. They use the Bible as their guide and filter, hoping to live practically in their culture while engaging in it. The biblicist is Biblio-centric. They are not afraid to make practical life decisions and live by them. They evolve—or what the Bible calls progressive sanctification. They effectively live in the culture but guard against crossing biblical guidelines.
Their worldview is how to think about their culture while engaging them without being adversely affected by their culture. The biblicist perspective sees no choice but to engage the culture while living in the culture. It is like a fish forced to live in water. The fish cannot alienate himself from the water, though he must refrain from being bloated by the water. To live biblically in your culture requires courage, discernment, compassion, and discretion. It sounds like, “We are in the culture. Therefore, we must discern how to engage our culture for God’s glory. Rather than trying to separate from them or blindly imbibe their ways, we look to our Savior, hoping to emulate how He lived in, enjoyed, and engaged His culture.”
Lucia and I have spent considerable time thinking about living like Christ in our personal lives, marriage, family, and culture. We believe in and practice progressive sanctification in a community. We do not believe and would not suggest we have arrived. How arrogant. If anything, we are a work in progress. As for the Santa question, we filter this dilemma through a biblicist’s filter. Honestly, the Santa question is not an issue in our home. It is a tertiary matter at best. It does not warrant the scrutiny and time we devote to the essential thing in our house: the gospel.
However, we want to interact with this tertiary question because of the gospel. We cannot keep from thinking about Santa because we are gospel representatives. No areas in our lives outside the gospel’s applications exist. Thus, the Santa question is primarily about integrity. Can we tell our children something is true when it is not true? Does this mean we should separate from Santa and completely shut our kids off from one of the culture’s most prominent icons?
In 2010 we went to Disneyworld. Our children interacted with Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Snow White, and twenty-plus other characters they knew through movies and television. Lucia and I do not have a conscience issue with our children interacting with Disney’s characters, including Daniel Boone and Johnny Tremain. We want them to imagine and explore by interacting with these fictional and non-fictional characters. As our children learned more about our culture when younger, they regularly asked if “this or that” was real. They live in a world and generation that sometimes makes it hard to discern truth from fiction.
“Daddy, is that [person, idea, or thing] real” used to be a common question from our children. Questions about mysteries are a privilege for a parent to answer. Younger children are primarily dependent on their parents to guide them in truth. They don’t struggle with fiction, but they regularly ask for our help knowing the difference between genuine and fake. Lucia and I believe it is our responsibility to teach our children to discern between right and wrong, true and false. Our culture will eagerly give them their worldview if we do not do this. With these thoughts in mind, we regularly do three specific things with our children:
Truth (faith) is the most significant issue and obstacle in the Bible. Truth, trust, hope, belief, confidence, and faith are synonyms, and God calls Christians to live by these things (Romans 1:17). Without faith, we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). There is no topic in the Bible more important than truth. Remember the first lie? One of our most significant parental values centers on the truth. Satan introduced the tension between truth and falsehood to Adam and Eve. God’s truth is the foundation upon which everything else in the world sits. If truth falls, we fall. God calls me to model Him to our children (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9). What they see and experience in me gives them their earliest and the most potent interpretive grid of God the Father.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).
Our children know Santa is not real (I am a separatist), but we enjoy the fictional idea of Santa (I am a liberal). A few years ago, we watched Herbie the Love Bug (circa 1970) and laughed hard as we were cuddled in our bed while enjoying each other, eating popcorn, and watching the movie. Our children (and yours) are smart enough to enjoy fiction. They can thoroughly enjoy the idea of our cultural Santa Claus without being told that he is real. God gave them the capacity to think outside the box. Fiction does not have to trip them up; it will not trip them up if you tell them the truth about fiction.
If my Heavenly Father said something was true, only years later I find out it was a lie, I would have difficulty believing anything He says to me. We want our children to embrace the truth without doubt or reservation. Teaching them to trust is part of the process of pointing them to Jesus, the One I want them to believe in ultimately. I do not wish to tell “Santa lies” to unnecessarily trip them up as I teach them about the Savior. Please be free to enjoy Santa if you choose to. Only do so with discernment. If our children can enjoy Mickey Mouse and play with Woody (from Toy Story), I think they can do the same with Santa.
We do not want them to have an anti-Santa perspective that puts them in an awkward place to explain their separatist view to their confused non-Christian friends. If the world chooses confusion or stumbles over our view on something, let Christ confound them. Let Jesus be the stumbling block rather than Santa (1 Corinthians 1:23). I recommend you tell your children the truth. If you have already lied, let them find out from you how and why you lied rather than finding out from their friends. Be honest. They will believe you. Their trust is what you want, right?
For freedom, Christ has set you free (Galatians 5:1).
Reinforce the importance of truth in your home and your life. Let them know that Jesus is the Truth and that you want to teach them to follow you as you follow Him in His truth (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 11:1). Thoroughly enjoy your world with discernment, wisdom, and discretion.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).