Last week I got a text from a concerned parent about a conversation she had heard between one of my boys and one of her daughters. Oh no I thought—here we go. The range of possible inappropriate conversations started swirling through my head. I texted back and said I would love to talk to her about it. In short, my son had told her daughter that Santa wasn’t real and that it was really her parents. This is in fact the 3rd parent who had approached me concerned about the stories my kids were spreading around school about Santa.
My kids have been counting down to Christmas since October. We have advent calendars, a Christmas tree, gingerbread houses. We watch every kid's Christmas movie made at some point in the next month. They play Santa, make sleighs, dress up as Santa and give presents like Santa. But they do not believe in Santa. We decided with our first that we wouldn’t make a big deal about Santa rather we would let culture tell the story. But when asked we decided we would tell the truth: the story of St Nick who made presents for all the kids in town and that the Santa who comes down the chimney is not real.
To my surprise when Sam was 2, one day while walking down the street holding my hand, he asked me if Santa was real and if God was real. In so many ways it is appropriate to ask those questions together. The common perception about God and Santa is that they are old men with white beards, in the sky. We can’t see them but we need to behave in a certain way in order to please them because once a year in Santa’s case, or in God’s case once in your life these two old guys have a big impact on what you get or don’t get. So in order to get presents, or get eternal life you had better be good because creepily without you seeing them, they are watching your every move and making note of what you do.
Not believing in Santa does not dampen my kid's excitement, or love of Christmas. The cool part of them knowing that it is us who gives presents is that starting in October they start saving their money and doing extra chores to buy each other and us presents (and themselves any present they want but didn't get). They love to give (and to receive!). But I never want them to confuse Santa with God.
Jesus came to show us the heart of the Father. He came to bring heaven to earth. Jesus came to enable men and women, slave and free, young and old to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we could then do what he did. Jesus did not reveal to us an old man who is legalistic and moralistic. He showed us love; calls us to forgive, to not judge, to extend mercy, to give to the poor, to put God’s kingdom first and all else will follow. He came so that we could not just know about God but actually know God—an audacious claim. He wants to talk to us, not just show up once a year in the middle of the night while we are still sleeping. He wants to be seen and heard.
I love these two pictures of Greg with his kids. The first one (up top) is so often our picture of God--distant, can't touch us, faceless but there in case of emergencies, sometimes. The second is what I believe to be true about God-In the boat with us. And that is what we are celebrating this advent-a God who is in the boat with us and of course the count down to Christmas.
We have conversations with our kids before the christmas season (every year) to not tell other kids that Santa isn't real but that if asked if they believe in Santa they don't have to lie. I completely respect other parents desires to do things differently than us. But alas, sigh, this year it wasn't enough. I must say though-for all the possible scenarios of things I could be pulled aside for--inappropriate language (or other inappropriate things), punching a kid etc...It has been a relief to me that so far it has just been about Santa. So here's to the beginning of december--let the countdown begin.
Ali Millikan, Author
I love Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. I love my husband and kids. I believe that God is in the room with us; that hearing God's voice is for everyone and that it will change your day to day reality.