Many Christians are apt to be just a little bit churlish when it comes to Christmas. I sometimes get a sense that Christians are resentful that “our” festival has been stolen, taken over by revellers who are happy to sing carols and watch a school nativity play but will give little or no thought to the gospel for the rest of the year. Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas.
We have a particular problem with Father Christmas (or Santa Claus, if you must). Never a year goes by without some stoy in the news of a conflict between the church and one of her most widely celebrated saints. This year was no exception. I have spoken to many Christians over the years who have tied themselves up in knots over whether to allow their children to enjoy this particular bit of fairytale. Some are vociferously anti-Santa
However, we believe it is wrong for Christians to tell children what they know is a lie that Santa Claus exists, let alone continue the deception by implying that Christmas is in any way about Santa Claus instead of about Christ. We don’t call it Santamas, but Christmas. Do you want your children to believe that the fat cartoon figure pictured above is real, when the truth about Jesus Christ is so much more exciting, wonderful, and true? …
Just as the myth of evolution replaces the truth of biblical creation, so the mythical Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, replaces the Son of God, Jesus Christ, at Christmas time. This replaces the true meaning of Christmas with nonsense. Strangely, some Christians talk to their children more about Santa (an anagram of Satan, interestingly) than about the reason Christianity exists: Jesus Christ.
The danger in encouraging children to believe that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real is that you are building their trust in something they will find out is a lie. If you tell them a lie about this, you may wonder why they start doubting God too, and don’t want to go to church. The child thinks, â€œThey told me two big lies; maybe what they told me about God is a lie too.â€
We should stick to what Christmas is all about. Like Dickens’ Gradgrind, we should confine ourselves to the facts. “Bah, humbug!” (to change my Dickensian reference) to the rest.
Attitudes like this are a terrible shame, or so they seem to me. Children are creatures of wonder and imagination, both qualities which can nurture faith in the Living God. They thrive on storytelling and their world is naturally full of what we adults, poverty-stricken by reason, regard as naive personifications. Only this morning on our walk up to school, my 6 year old daughter asked me: “Daddy, why does Jack Frost come?” Should I scotch this bit of her mythology fearing for the development of her scientific mind? After all, she has already decided she wants to be a doctor. Perhaps I should have explained that frost is spicules of ice which form on solid surfaces when they are chilled below the deposition point. It is never too early to start thinking about physics! But I confess, I simply said that Jack Frost comes when it is cold. That seemed to do.
Likewise with Father Christmas. He has a place in our family storytelling, part of the mythology we share. To suggest that this amounts to lying to our children is as ludicrous as the notion that the ‘facts’ of the Nativity can be easily and plainly stated.
I was reminded recently that ‘gospel’ was, in Old English, ‘godspel’ and, though I am sure that this is etymologically unsound, I am taken with the idea that the incarnation of Jesus is “God’s spell” — a moment so wondrous that it takes imagination, not reason, to apprehend it.
Of course I’m not here arguing for abandoning the achievements of the Enlightenment, for discarding reason entirely in favour of mythology and superstition. But perhaps Christians before all others should recognize that stories, imagination and wonder are a vital part of our lives. Let’s not deprive our children of them too readily.