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The Santa Situation

Explaining Santa Claus to Your Kids

By Rebecca A. Lamb
Guest Writer"Santa's dead?" My bewildered 5-year-old's blue-gray eyes flashed hints of disbelief, and worse, betrayal.

"Yes, Hollie, but..."

"Santa's dead?!" SPLASH! SPLASH! Her tears hit the kitchen table and ricocheted against my heart.

For weeks, I practiced a brief biography on St. Nicholas while praying for help. I knew this conversation wouldn't be easy.

There once was a man named Nicholas and he lived a long time ago. He gave food and gifts to orphans because he loved Jesus very much. That's why people dress up in Santa suits today; so we can remember what Nicholas did.

It wasn't my intent to destroy Hollie's Christmas fantasy, but to grow her understanding of the purpose of the holiday. I never imagined she would surmise Santa's demise. Now, I felt like the Grinch who stole Christmas. Where did I go wrong?

My mistake was letting others form my childrens' view of Santa. Their grandparents had honorable intentions with their promotion of him, but I also encouraged TV shows that fed this fantasy. By letting others teach her about Santa, I ultimately allowed it to form their view of Christmas. So, how do I instill faith into my children about Christ when I've deceived them about Santa?

Start with the Original Christmas Story

It's important to build up their faith foundation. Before opening presents, we gather around our tree and read the true story of Christmas (Genesis 3:1-19, Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-20, Matthew 2:1-12, and John 3:16). It's vital you reinforce your child's understanding of God's love and reason for Christ's birth.

Decide Early How to Handle the Subject of Santa

Many families, Christian or not, are comfortable promoting a fanciful figure as reality. After all, there's only a brief period in a child's life when she is able to believe the unbelievable with complete abandon. But what happens when they discover the truth? I wasn't afraid my children would no longer believe in Santa, but that they wouldn't believe the unbelievable, the true story of Christ's sacrifice for our sins.

After discussing my concerns with friends, I realized something I overlooked—one that allowed my children their imagination while keeping Christ at the center of Christmas. My friends presented Santa as fiction in the first place. One friend said it this way, "[My children] don't think of Santa as anything different than Big Bird or Mickey Mouse."

Don't Confuse the Fictional Santa with the Factual St. Nick

Nicholas, born into modest wealth, was taught the importance of helping people less fortunate than himself. Orphaned as a young teen, Nicholas found comfort in his faith and religious studies. Nicholas, ordained as a priest at age 19, became Bishop of Myra shortly thereafter. Nicholas was imprisoned from 303 A.D. to 308 A.D. because he wouldn't worship Roman emperor Diocletian as a god. He also encouraged his fellow prisoners to remain steadfast in their faith. Bishop Nicholas was primarily known for his kindness, generosity, and wisdom.

Discover the Truth Inside the Myth of Santa

Today's Santa is a mixture of fact and legend about Nicholas, religious traditions around the world, and the imagination of writers and advertisers. For instance, some people believe the red robes Nicholas wore as a bishop inspired Santa's suit. Though Santa is fictional, he's contributed a great deal to our Christian heritage.

Though Nicholas is not the reason for the season, the celebration of his memory played a key role in today's Christmas traditions. Communities celebrated Nicholas' memory every December 6, the anniversary of his death. When Martin Luther urged believers to refrain from honoring saints in the 16th century, Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians perpetuated his memory by including St. Nicholas festivities in their Christmas traditions.

It wasn't until 1870, however, that Christmas was adopted as an official lesson plan in Protestant churches. As part of the lesson, Sunday School teachers dressed up as Santa to hand out presents as an outreach to children who didn't normally attend Sunday School.

Share with Others Less Fortunate Than Yourself

Historians credit Nicholas for turning Christmas into a gift-giving season. On December 6, people celebrated his memory by re-enacting tales attributed to Nicholas. One re-enactment included hanging stockings over the fireplace and filling them with gifts in remembrance of the time Nicholas saved a widower from selling his daughters into slavery. Legend says Nicholas snuck into their home and filled their stockings that hung over the fireplace with gold coins. Additionally, entire communities participated in the festivities by giving gifts to one another.

No amount of consoling quieted Hollie when she learned of Santa's death. In desperation, I reminded her of when we packed up her good clothes that she'd outgrown and toys she didn't use and gave them to an orphanage our church sponsored.

"See Hollie, you're like Santa when you give things away to other children who need them more than you!"

Instantly, her tears stopped.

"Really, Mama? I'm like Santa too?!" she said, her face brightened with delight.

"Yes, Hollie, you are," I nodded.

That's when I knew she understood. Christmas was not about Santa, but about Jesus and following His example in giving to others just as God gives to us.

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