Finding Santa’s Place in the Church

Many have asked me what my views are regarding Santa Clause. Specifically, they want to know if I, as a pastor, am OK with his participation in the church’s annual Christmas celebrations. The question almost always catches me off guard. Those who raise the issue are usually doing so for a reason. They feel the loss of a precious tradition. They want to know whose side I am on and if I am willing to bring it back.

To my shame, I rarely have a well thought out answer that doesn’t attempt to alleviate the tension.

When questions like this arise, our first course of action should be to turn to Scripture. Does the Bible, the inspired Word of God, without error, fully trustworthy in all things, address whether or not Santa should be in our Church celebrations?

The answer isn’t as simple as some would have you believe. The Christian’s course of action, however, is.

First, is it wrong to encourage the whole Santa Clause enterprise in the first place?

One side says that to teach our kids the legend of Santa Clause, to allow them to sit on his lap and ask for presents, to encourage them to anticipate his coming on Christmas Eve is harmless. To do otherwise is to set them at odds with their friends at school and to deprive them of the joy to be had at Christmas time.

The other side says that the Bible is clear. It is a sin to lie. To teach our kids that a jolly old man in a red suit with a bushy beard comes down the chimney every year to give gifts to them is to lie. Not only that but we also encourage the idea that good people deserve good things and bad people deserve bad things (coal, perhaps),  which contradicts the message of the gospel that there are no good people and all need Christ.

I think both sides need to think long and hard about this.

Is it totally harmless to teach our kids about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman (he terrified me as a kid!), etc? Can’t we agree that there is at least the possibility that when we present fiction to our children as fact, then fact (Jesus) might later be perceived as fiction?

On the other hand, is it really a lie to teach our kids about Santa? I know of a godly Christian ethics professor who would argue that practicing these traditions is akin to Rahab lying to save the Israelite spies or Germans lying to the Nazis to protect Jews. In other words, character and motive are just as important to the action when determining whether something is in fact sin. Or, so he would argue.

At the end of the day, I think we have to place one’s views on Santa Clause in the category of personal conviction. If you are personally convicted that it is wrong to participate, then so be it. If you are personally convicted that it is ok to participate, then so be it.

My wife and I decided before we had children that we would neither encourage nor discourage the Santa tradition. We would allow our children to enjoy their imaginations if they so chose to believe, but we would not teach them outright that he is real. And we certainly would not lie to them if they asked us point blank. “Where do the presents on Christmas morning come from?” “Mommy and Daddy.” Have we taken the easy way out? Maybe. We just don’t believe it’s a hill worth dying on.

Second, and this flows from the discussion above regarding one’s personal conviction, how should Christians who disagree on Santa treat one another?

We should acknowledge outright that the Bible does not address this issue specifically. The concept of Santa Clause would have been unheard of by the biblical authors, and so they give neither a “yay” nor a “nay” regarding the practice. This is one of the reasons that it becomes a personal conviction issue. One has to pray and then examine the tradition/belief in light of Scripture and come to one’s own conclusions.

Romans 14:1-4 says, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Verses 12-17 read, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

The following principles are evident in the text:

  • Do not judge your brother regarding personal convictions, issues the Bible does not specifically address.
  • Do not cause your brother to sin by forcing him to participate in something his personal convictions do not allow. To do so is to hurt your brother. That is unloving.
  • The kingdom of God is about pursuing righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. These other things are petty and insignificant. As believers, we are called to focus on what really matters. Ultimately, Santa doesn’t.

Am I saying that the person who is against endorsing Santa Claus is the weaker brother? No, I am not. The context of Romans 14 is rather specific, so I am uncomfortable assigning weakness to either side of the Santa debate. The principles, however, still apply. We are to consider our brother as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Now, let’s answer the question we began with. Should Santa participate in our church Christmas celebrations?

It goes without saying that Santa (and a great many other things for that matter) should not be present during a worship service. The regular gathering(s) of the saints should be characterized by prayer, Word and sacrament. Personally, I would not be opposed to using the real St. Nicholas as an illustration in such a gathering, but as there is little we can say about him definitively, this might be unhelpful as well.

Is the annual Christmas program/pageant/cantata/concert considered a worship service? If it isn’t, what is its purpose? One could argue that it is a worship service but not the worship service and should, therefore, operate under different guidelines, but if it’s a worship service at all, it’s hard to argue for the presence of Santa Clause.

Even here, it becomes the decision of each local body. This means the principles of personal conviction apply yet again.

All of this leads me to conclude that if there is even one person in the body who is against the idea of Santa’s participation in the church’s annual Christmas celebrations, then the church should lovingly and willingly set that tradition aside.

Why?

Because to do otherwise, to force a brother in Christ, including the pastor, to participate in something that violates his personal convictions is to sin. You hurt your brother, and this is unloving.

The reply might be, “Well, he doesn’t have to participate,” but is excluding him any less unloving? I think not.

Brother, sister…if you care more about Santa Clause than you do the members of your own eternal spiritual family, I would encourage you to pray for forgiveness and repent. Let us endeavor to pursue righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For it is the kingdom of God rather than the temporal trappings of this world that matter in the end.

Merry Christmas to you all and love in Christ,
Pastor Casey

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