A Study in SANTA – pt. I …is Santa Naughty?
‘Tis the season to read articles on why Santa is evil.
I know…’tis the season to be jolly…but not too jolly, because that would be acting like Santa…who’s evil.
Ok, ok, maybe not evil – but DEFINITELY not something a good God-fearin’ mama would inflict on her innocent children.
Every year I read these, and every year I react the same way – I agree with so much of what these parents are saying. I respect their point of view and admire the fact that they’ve given so much thought to the subject. But I still disagree.
Sometimes the claims are things like – since Santa isn’t real …if we play along that he is, then our children will think that EVERYthing we tell them is a lie.
If that line of reasoning is true, then I’d better not take them to a Harry Potter movie, or play pretending games, or read fiction. C’mon… As parents, I’d like to think we’re savvy enough to help our children distinguish fun fantasies from truth.
This year I read a very well-written blog post from a mom describing the biggest reasons why her family doesn’t participate in the Santa fantasy – and the number one reason was this:
“Santa promotes works righteousness.”
The idea is that the whole Santa story encourages a conditional system whereby good behavior EARNS you a prize/reward, and bad behavior keeps you from getting something.
Santa DOES encourage a works righteousness system. And you know what?
I’m glad for two reasons:
- That’s how much of this world works.
It may not be the way we want it to work, but that’s inconsequential…because it does. In this life, characteristics like hard work, kindness, patience, thoughtfulness, considering others, etc. all garner you good consequences.
Now, there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, if you are considerate and thoughtful, people will like you. If you’re diligent and steadfast in your studies/work, you’ll be able to accomplish your goals…maybe even enjoy some prosperity. If you are patient and kind, your relationships will work more smoothly. From the corporate world to the marriage union, being good earns you good things in return.
This is one reason we teach our children to care for others, to love people, to share their toys and respect their elders. We don’t just do that so they’ll be ‘good people,’ but because we want them to be liked and accepted. We want them to get into good schools, get good jobs, make good friends, and find loving romantic partners. We want them to be good – to get good things.
I’m not saying that my theology ends here. Of course not. There is something far deeper at play in raising up my children. I want them to honor God in their lives, to make sacrifices, and to know the love of Christ whether they are experiencing joy or sorrow. But, that doesn’t negate my desire for them to have a good life.
Santa isn’t evil for being conditional. Many good things in this world are conditional. Very few things are unconditional…which brings me to my second point.
2. It sets up the perfect dichotomy between Santa and God.
I WANT Santa to be conditional, so that my children will see and experience the freedom and delight of a God who is not. God is unlike any other mini ‘god.’ Anything we can make into an idol – including Santa, but also things like money, power, sex, attention, etc. – will disappoint us when we can’t live up to the place we’ve assigned it in our lives. But God loves us DESPITE our failings.
Santa brings gifts to reward good behavior…because we are good.
God sent his son while we were in full rebellion against him…because he is good.
I WANT my children to realize the vast and beautiful difference between the two. I want them to enjoy the fantasy of Santa, but bask in the freeing reality of God’s love.
I want them to realize that Santa’s gifts are conditional, but God’s good gifts are unconditional.
If Santa didn’t promote a works based system, I’d be much more leery…because he’d be dangerously close to mimicking God. As it is, he’s a fun piece of fiction.
In the end, the gifts from Santa…and the gifts from this world – are fleeting. The only gift that endures, is the gift of life. And thank goodness that doesn’t depend on our good works.
So, yeah… Santa does promote a works righteousness…just like the world. But that’s ok, because Santa isn’t the final arbiter of righteousness at all. God is…and his system is much kinder. No matter how nice we are, we all have the capacity and the tendency towards the naughty. And God loves us despite that. For goodness’ sake. 🙂