Although some Christians place great emphasis on the birth of Jesus at Christmastime, many people focus heavily on the secular aspects of this season. They talk about Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, etc. Although these things are fun, it’s important to reflect on the messages that we send children through these characters.
This is what I mean: Children are told that Santa (and the Elf) watch them and record their behavior (on the Good List or Bad List). Lyrics from Santa Claus is Coming to Town say, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
Children are encouraged throughout the Christmas season to be good in order to receive gifts from Santa. What do the bad children get? They get coal, of course! I have even heard parents tell their children to behave since Santa (or the Elf on the Shelf) is watching!
Parents teach their children things through everything they say and do. We must always be cognizant of the lessons that we are teaching. This sometimes requires us to pay closer attention to what we say and do. So, let’s reflect on what some of these messages communicate to our children.
Some of Santa’s characteristics sound like God. We cannot see him (except in the malls and on movies). He knows what we do at all times, and he can do anything. What happens to the child’s view of Santa (or God) when he/she is disappointed on Christmas morning? How might this change his/her view of God (who seems very similar to Santa in the mind of a child)?
When children are reminded that Santa, or the Elf, are watching, their accountability shifts. They are no longer accountable to their parents (which really undermines the authority of the parents). Even more importantly, they are not accountable to God, but to fictional characters.
Not only is there an accountability shift, but the children’s behavior will affect Santa’s gift-giving (which children can interpret as love).
In our home, and I hope in yours, we teach our children that we are accountable to God, who sees our behavior at all times and loves us anyway. We model unconditional love. This is a love that is unchanging, no matter what behavior our children exhibit. Our children are encouraged to behave appropriately, but our love (and the gifts that we give) are not based on merit. It is crucial that we parents model the love that God gives to us.
The New Testament paints a picture of a very loving God. He loves His children, despite their flaws, sins, or behavior. He does not withhold good things from them. His love is appropriately described by the Apostle Paul, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8, NIV). This is the opposite of Santa’s merit-driven gifts.
So, how can we place the emphasis back to a loving God and a baby born in Bethlehem? Here are a few tips:
- Each time you read a secular book, or watch a movie about Santa, always ask the same question: “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Then answer aloud, “It’s Jesus’s birthday!”
- Take time to read the Matthew and Luke accounts of the birth of Jesus. Their accounts should be the guiding narratives of the season, not “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.”
- Remind your children that God loves us so much that He sent us a gift in Jesus.
- Pray with your children, and reflect on God’s unconditional love.
- Decorate your home with symbols of the birth of Jesus: nativity sets and the like.