How Santa Claus Stole Christmas

This blog is taken from a newsletter I wrote a couple years ago. Somewhere along the lines I failed to post it, so it has remained in the solitary confinement of my email database. So just pretend you’re the recipient so I don’t have to butcher the text to make it audience generic!

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of year! Thanks to classes, work, and Christmas events — pageant, formals, and “parties for hosting” — I’d quite forgotten how quickly Christmas snuck up. However this is a welcome turn, as it is far better than the countdown squeeze I normally regret.

I wish to lavish you all with my deepest affections, but I shall adequately grace you all after I take my little “pulpit” and try to add a little meaning to this newsletter — or rather, address something in relation to this timeless season.

Inevitably you should have seen it coming — what with the prior newsletter concerning Halloween from a Christian perspective; the invaluable observations I formed on that haunted night have helped to shape (besides my assessment of the common American intellect — ranting aside) my perception of Christmas.

Indeed, the great irony of discussing the two celebrations in the same paragraph! And yet, an interesting situation was posed to me on Halloween night. In my feeble (but I pray led by God!) attempts to help raise aware of Halloween’s satanic meaning, I was challenged by a neighbor with his attempt at logical discourse: how is Christmas any different? After all, Christmas has lots of pagan roots and traditions, and it’s highly commercialized — how can you hypocritically stand there and criticize a pagan celebration, yet hold to Christmas?

This question was hardly clever, nor adequately informed, but seeing that his mind was made up and hardly acquainted with logical discourse, I’ve realized that he was simply a representative sample of our “Christian” American population — perhaps his observations are viable, but his assessment is troubling. To adequately dissect this comparison, let us take the old school English approach of compare-and-contrast.

Comparison: Christmas vs. Halloween

What are the similarities? Consider first the assessment, that both are highly commercialized; commercialization tends to “mask” and “morph” the root meaning. Yes, commercialization has taken Halloween, which is inherently a satanic celebration (yes I’m making that assumption as per my last newsletter — bear with me) to a seemingly innocent game of dress-up and handing out candy…perhaps even some creepy symbols of death, decay, debauchery, etc. The average American puts up with Halloween because its commercial height has taken it to seemingly “innocent” proportions — I mean, what is inherently wrong with wearing a costume? Handing out candy? Hanging up spider webs?

Similarly, the commercialized meaning of Christmas has waned significantly; as USA Today heretically dared to put it (but in a sense they are right), Christmas is a “secular” holiday. While the author of that article proceeds to claim that Christmas itself is secular, it is rather the “celebration” of Christmas that is secular. What does Christmas entail? Buy lots of gifts, write a list to Santa Claus, sing about reindeer and elves, etc. Inherently, this is indeed a secular “celebration” — however, the holiday itself is undeniably contrary.

But enough of commercial height; the most interesting comparison is that of pagan roots — why celebrate Christmas and not Halloween if both have pagan roots? Christmas draws from many pagan holidays, namely the Roman Saturnalia and Scandinavian Winter Solstice Festival. Consider the Christmas tree: derived from the German god Thor, whose very existence was deified in the form of a great oak tree. I would be the first to say that Christmas has several symbols taken from pagan festivals.

Contrast: Christmas vs Halloween

Moving on, let us discuss the more important component of our little essay discussion: the contrast.

While commercialization can mask the meaning of a celebration, it should not determine the merit of the holiday itself. For example, commercialization has effectively “toned-down” the overwhelmingly satanic message of Halloween — we’ve made dabbling in demonic powers an innocent attraction! But now consider Christmas: we’ve watered down the meaning of Christmas — that of undeserved hope, life, and salvation through our Savior’s incarnation — to Santa Claus, his elves, reindeer, and there “earned” craftsmanship.

But already the difference is clear; the Christmas holiday is inherently of God — why shouldn’t we celebrate the Father’s Gift? Halloween on the other hand is the celebration of that which Christ defeated: death and sin, vanquished by the power and mercy of our Lord!

So while one might make the case that the two celebrations are similar, the contrast irrefutably voids the judgement that Christmas is “no better” than Halloween. Indeed, for our sake all claims of hypocrisy are cleared, provided we remember and celebrate what Christmas really is. In short, you determine to celebrate a holiday based on its root, not it’s deviation! And to further protect your integrity, abstain from those symbols which are foreign or contrary to the heart of that holiday.

I should also add that many of the traditions we take from pagan holidays are actually symbols of conversion — again, consider the Christmas tree. In Germany, a mighty tree was the sacred symbol of the god Thor; when Saint Winfred attempted to convert the Scandinavians to Christianity, he audaciously felled the tree to prove that Thor did not exist — beneath the shrouds of the fallen oak was found a little fern tree, and Winfred proclaimed that it should be a symbol of the Christ child’s birth and the life He bought.

Santa Baby: The Star or the Chimney?

Could you not perceive this next bunny trail?

But jesting aside, the issue of Santa Claus in the Christian church has become as close an issue to me as Halloween. What could you expect from someone whose letters need only slight rearrangement to spell “satan”?

As I do not wish to discolor the character of the real Nicholas, let me precede my discussion with a brief biography of this man.

Nicholas was born to Epiphanus and Johanna, who were followers of the Orthodox tradition. The boy observed all the religious requirements with great fervor, but felt he had not grasped the real significance of Christianity; in an attempt to discover this meaning, he traveled to Palestine. During his stay, his parents died in an epidemic, and at his return, Nicholas found himself rich. However, he was deeply sorrowed by this inheritance, for he felt that the follower of Christ was better off poor than rich. Consequently, he gave his wealth out as acts of charity; perhaps the most famous of these acts was his anonymous gift of gold to three prospective brides as payment for their dowries.

As the story passed over cultural borders, the narrative changed and expanded — Saint Nicholas became Sinterklaas (from the Dutch tradition) and eventually Santa Claus. However, the tradition has become firmly rooted in America, especially with the search for “secular” figures to celebrate in place of Christ.

Now that we’ve had our dose of history, I ask a simple question: how should Christians react to Santa Claus? Or Dasher and Prancer and Rudolph?

Santa Claus: To Pretend, or Not to Pretend

I think a few things say it best; America’s children have developed an increasingly voracious consumer mentality: “I want this, I want that.” What is Santa teaching our toddlers? Write down a list to Santa, and he’ll get you everything you want — not because he’s a giving man, but because you’re a deserving little one.

The second thing is perhaps a little bit more disturbing — recently, my mother had the unique displeasure of overhearing a phone call that went something like this, “Can you believe it? (muffled Peanuts voice on the other end) Yeah they started going to church, and now they’re going to tell their son about Santa Claus, something about having to tell the truth. Seriously?! What is wrong with them!”

I make my first case on why you shouldn’t celebrate Santa Claus, nor should you subscribe to the American Dream and play make-believe with your kids about Santa. First, it promotes the wrong attitude — that we “earned” presents by being good, and that a gift is given out of necessity. We know this to be absolutely false — a gift is an undeserved act of love, sometimes presented in material gain, but also lavished in immaterial “goods.”

But let me make a more important observation: if we’re going to preach Santa Claus to our kids, what about Jesus? I know little ones that have (understandably) muddled the identities of Santa and Jesus, and consequently muddle the character of Christ in disturbing ways. Is it possible for us to proclaim Santa to the little ones and still convince them that the Season is all about Christ? How can we; their minds are wrapped around the presents and magical characters of the North Pole — they are unlikely to care nearly as much about that miraculous birth in Bethlehem two millenniums years ago. Perhaps it seems overrated, but I firmly believe we undermine and damage our children’s faith by meddling with Santa.

Finally, I present a third and quite convicting point (hang in there!). Eventually our children will grow out of Santa — what will they walk away with? An ungratifying childhood memory of fakery, courtesy of their well-meaning parents. Consider this — a survey of a representative sample of children yielded the number one thing they wanted from their parents: to be told the truth. Although it is outside the scope of this discussion, I’ve read some enlightening articles that shed some light on what those “little white lies” to your children yield — some bigger white lies in return and general distrust. While I would quickly counter that telling lies is not something you have to be trained in (due to the sin nature), we still can encourage distrust in our children through those little lies we tell them.

What is most disconcerting about this behavior is how it affects the faith of the child — when we tell our children that Santa Claus is real (in the sense of an overweight chap clad in red who drives a flying sleigh), we are undoubtedly lying to them. While some would argue in favor of the memory benefits, I would like to point out the dire consequences — as per the survey, telling those little lies encourages children to distrust or perhaps more readily dismiss things as “fairy tales.” Namely, if Santa proved to be something my parents made up, why not Jesus? What makes Jesus any more real than Santa? This observation is hardly academic — kids outgrow Santa, but they may also “outgrow” Jesus and the cute little manger with animals, hay, and shepherds in bath robes. This same phenomenon is becoming rampant with other Bible “stories,” like the Great Flood (which is quite another fascinating scientific topic). When do we start telling kids the truth?

I have been unfortunate enough to read accounts of children raised in Christian homes who still believe in Santa, but no longer believe in God. They outgrew Christ because something else choked it: the symbol of consumerism replaced the author of giving. One day they will also outgrow Santa, but not because he gets choked out — they’ve learned that their parents and our culture fabricated him, “as they did with the One they call Jesus.”

Anytime I bring up this subject with parents, I anticipate the usual, “oh, but it’s all fun and innocent, and the kids will make great memories.” But they take away the same from Halloween: memories, “innocent fun,” and a lesson learned — let’s make sure the lesson they take away from any holiday is Christ centered.

On that final note…

I hope you all will consider these (lengthy) considerations I have lain on the subject of commercial symbols in Christmas — obviously, there are other symbols in Christmas which would diminish its true meaning, but the same logic applies; consider the root of the holiday, and if its cause is Christ honoring, then let us celebrate it with all fervor and cheer.

Wishing you the Merriest of Christmases in all the season’s blessings and riches!!!