Santa Claus and Children's Ministry: How Do You Respond?

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santa-claus-is-not-JesusIt happens almost every year. One kid comes to children’s church with a personal mission to prove Santa is not real. Besides the disruption, it creates a situation where one child is calling someone’s mom a liar. That’s why I’m calling to order a special Christmas edition of our Think Tank.

How do you handle the whole issue of Santa Claus in your ministry? How would you redirect a group of children at church who are debating his existence? What advice would you give Christan parents & grandparents about Santa?

This is the question for the December edition of the Children’s Ministry Think Tank. Each month I ask several kids ministry leaders to respond to a challenging situation related to children’s ministry. The answers are always informative, but they are incomplete without your input. So, enjoy the conversation and leave your comment at the bottom of this post.

Response from Wayne Stocks

When I received this month’s Think Tank question, it came just a couple of days after and thorough and exhaustive drilling from my eight-year-old son on whether or not Santa Claus was real. I thought about begging off on this think tank, but this is an issue that those in Children’s Ministry (and parents in general) need to address head on. However, gefore I get to the questions actually posed, let me give you a little bit of background so you know where I am coming from on this issue. I have four kids, they are 16, 8, 6 and 2. I started going to church shortly after my six year old (now almost seven) was born and accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior shortly thereafter. That said, my love for Christmas pre-dates my acceptance of Christ. I love the music, the presents, the gifts, the family and everything else that goes along with Christmas. The focus of my love has shifted since I accepted Christ, but the holiday itself has always held a special place in my heart, and Santa always played a huge part in the Christmas season in my house. Since becoming a Christian, I have wrestled with the topic of Santa almost every year. I know that many well meaning and sincere Christian parents tell their kids that there is no Santa Claus. On the flip side, many equally well-meaning and sincere Christian parents see no issue in Santa. So here’s where I eventually landed on the issue:

  1. If my kids believe in Santa Claus, that’s ok. Kids believe in all kinds of things. Thanks to Disney, most of our kids believe in talking fish and dinosaurs. J It seems to me that part of being a kid, and part of the fun in dealing with kids, is that imagination and fantasy.
  2. I will not directly lie to my kids about Santa or anything else for that matter. They will get presents from Santa, and leave a letter for Santa (they will even get a reply every year), and leave cookies each year. If they ask, I may try to change the subject or avoid the question. Heck, I may even play some mind games like “What do you think?” or “Do you get presents from Santa?” But, I won’t take the easy way out and just lie to them. Some people may suggest that this is a distinction without a difference – if you lead your kids to believe in something, that is essentially lying to them. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the issue I wrestle with. However, in the same way I do not feel the need to give my kids a disclaimer that there are no such things as talking vegietables every time I turn on an episode of Veggietales, I don’t mind allowing them believe in Santa.
  3. My kids need to understand the difference when we talk about Jesus and when we talk about Santa. Jesus is the risen Son of God whose existence and divinity are well attested to and evidenced by Bible and the other sources. Santa is just Santa Claus – a jolly old guy who lives at the North Pole with elves. Unlike Jesus, there is no proof of Santa’s existence. Frankly, I find Santa a good jumping off point for a discussion of the differences between blind faith and reasoned faith. I never want to leave my kids in a position where they can say “Dad said Santa was true and I don’t believe that anymore so maybe I shouldn’t believe what he says about Jesus either.” I think the key to avoiding this is living Christ out in front of them as much as possible. Santa drops off some packages once a year and brings temporary happiness. Christ changes lives and brings us eternal joy.
  4. Santa can never, and will never, be at the center of Christmas in my house. Christmas is about Christ – plain and simple! Christmas is about God’s plan to save us from our sins. That is the fundamental truth of Christmas and Santa has nothing to do with that. I think so long as my kids understand this, whether or not they believe in Santa is irrelevant. Every good thing comes from above, and whether the delivery man for those things is Santa, shiply company or Mom and Dad does not really matter!

Now, for the questions actually asked in this think tank:
Santa Claus is not part of my ministry. We focus on Christ in our teaching which is what I think Children’s Ministry should be about every week. I think the issue of Santa is best left to parents. That said, if a group of children is discussing the existence of Santa Claus, my approach is to let them talk it through. I think it is great when kids can start to use their reasoning and analytical abilities to discuss these issues amongst themselves. So long as the conversation is not spiteful and doesn’t devolve into “Yes he does,” “No he doesn’t,” “Yes he does,” I think that such conversations should be encouraged whether they are about Santa or any other topic. Finally, when it comes to advice to parents and grandparents, I think they should follow their own conscience so long as it doesn’t contradict with Biblical authority. I would talk to them about the steps I’ve taken (as indicated above) to ensure that they understand the difference between Santa and Jesus, but beyond that I don’t believe that the existence or non-existence of Santa is really a Biblical issue.
Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year!

Read more from Wayne Stocks on his blog “Dad in the Middle”.

Response from Brenna Phillips

Imagination is a healthy, natural part of a child’s development. Imagination plays an important role in allowing a child to fantasize, pretend, and assign human traits to inanimate objects.
Santa fits right in with the imagination of a young child. But children grow up, mature, and begin to wonder if Santa is real. Older children (especially older siblings) often tease younger children about their continued belief in Santa.
This is the part where adults and leaders can intervene and begin to gently explain another aspect of Santa. Christmas is about giving, not receiving. Santa is the spirit of giving. What happens when a young child asks if he’s real? Adults can explain that he is real is the minds and hearts of those who truly believe in the giving spirit of Christmas. That is a difficult concept for young children to grasp but over a period of time of pondering and teaching and maturation, they will begin to understand.
Here is a bit of advice for parents/grandparents on Santa: It’s ok to believe in Santa with your children but remember to emphasis the true gift-giving meaning of Christmas as the birth of Jesus, the amazing gift God gave to all people.

Brenna Phillips is Children-Family Minister at Mission Fellowship Church in Middletown, Delaware, and teaches preschool students at an early childhood learning center.

Response from Charlie Wallace

We don’t really promote Santa Claus in our children’s ministry. We do not have pictures of Santa on the walls or his “workshop” set up near the entrance. Santa is noticeably absent from our children’s area and that is by design. The church is the place where we learn primarily about Jesus…not Santa.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never heard a conversation concerning Santa Claus between kids take place. If it did overhear some discussion, I would probably just say, “Quit talking about Santa Claus and do” whatever it is that the kids are supposed to be doing.
I believe the crux of this discussion takes place in the home. Every parent has a preconceived notion as to what extent Santa talk will take place in their home. Here is my advice:

  1. Decide what your family’s view of Santa will be – In other words, Who is Santa to your children? Is he like the tooth fairy or Easter bunny? Is he more then that? Does he possess God-like qualities (He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…he knows when you’ve been bad and good)? Some parents do make way too much out of Santa Claus. Therefore, decide who he will be in your home. Obviously, if you decide to portray Santa a real person with God-like qualities at some point your children will figure out that the picture that you’ve been painting them is a fraud. That brings me to my next point:
  2. Don’t lie to your kids – Don’t lie to your kids about Santa. If they ask you if he’s real, don’t say that he is. If they ask you if Santa is real, you then have a natural chance to explain what Santa is really all about.
  3. Don’t fuel your kids’ Santa obsession – Chances are that early on in your child’s life, by the age of 2 or 3, they are going to start an obsession with Santa. It’s unavoidable. The presence of Santa is ubiquitous. Therefore, take care not to further fuel the obsession. I would advise not saying things like, “Santa’s watching you!” That’s just freaky. Besides, God is the only omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient being of the universe, not Santa Claus. Be careful not to fill your kids’ minds with thoughts about Santa that are God-like.
  4. Take time to re-orient their thoughts of Santa to those of Jesus – An example would be to give them an Advent calendar where they can count the days of Jesus’ birth and not just the days where they get a lot of presents. This brings me to the hardest one:
  5. Don’t give your kids a lot of presents – Don’t make Christmas the time where you shower your children with presents. Give them 3, 4, 5…but that’s it. If you want to really celebrate your children, give them a bunch of stuff on their birthday, not Jesus’ birthday. Take the focus off of your children’s hearts being wrapped up in being good for Santa and instead have their hearts attuned to the birth of Jesus the Savior of the world.

Charlie Wallace is the Children’s Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbia, SC. He is a regular contributor for our blog. You can read more from Charlie on his blog titled First Kids.

Response from Jared Kennedy and Fletcher Lang

There’s no way around it, pretty much every kid in America is going to know about Santa Claus. Thanks to Coca-Cola, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and mall atriums everywhere, the jolly ole’ man in red is a cultural Christmas staple who probably isn’t going away any time soon. But as Christian parents or Sunday School teachers, is it a good idea for us to teach our kids that Santa Claus is coming to town?
I think we’ll all agree that during the Advent season, it’s our job to teach kids about the true meaning of Christmas—that Christmas is about Jesus’ incarnation and birth as a baby in Bethlehem. It is about God saving people created in his own image by coming to earth Himself as a man. As long as the incarnated Jesus is the focus of our stories and celebrations, we think it’s okay to tell your kids about Santa – after all, unless they’ve been completely sheltered from the culture, they probably already know.
Here are two key things to consider when teaching kids about Santa Claus:
1) Teach kids the legend of St. Nicholas. Nicholas was a real man who did many good things, and we do well to celebrate his life. Here’s a good article by Pastor Mark Driscoll that tells about Nicholas’ life in plain language:
2) Remind kids that they’ll never be good all the time! Santa is not our judge, but if he were and he really was making a list, none of us would be on his “nice” list. Let’s be honest, we’re all still naughty deep down in our hearts. But there has been One who made it on the “nice” list. Jesus, being born of a virgin in a little manger in Bethlehem, was the only person who made it onto God’s “nice” list. And we have hope because, through faith in Him, God has made it possible for us to be added to that list as well! He sees us in all our sin, but He still gives us His good and perfect gifts. So the next time a group of kids are arguing over Santa’s existence, try to point them to Jesus by saying, “If Santa is real, could you really make it onto his nice list?” and by reminding them that Jesus is the true reason for the season.

Jared is the father of three daughters and serves as Associate Pastor for Children’s and Parent Ministries at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Fletcher serves as Jared’s pastoral assistant.

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