Christmastime is upon us once more. To some it is a season filled with virtues: joy, fellowship, and charity; to others a season of vices: commercialism, avarice, and selfishness. It is a time when the secular and the sacred come together in peace, but it can also be a time when the two realms are brought to war. That ruthless hostility lurking beneath the surface of the Christmas season is perhaps best personified in a single discussion: Should we teach our children to believe in Santa Claus?

I didn’t fully comprehend the case for Santa Claus until my sophomore year of high school when I was volunteering at a Christmas fair for underprivileged children. One of them, a shy first-grader, recognized me because we rode the same bus to school. Rather than going about the myriad activities with his peers, he insisted that I personally take him to the different stations. We saved the visit to see Santa Claus until the end. As we walked back to the pickup point, I asked what he told Santa he wanted for Christmas.

“It’s a secret, but I’ll tell you,” he whispered, deciding that we were officially friends. “Instead of presents, I asked him if he could help my friend Sarah’s mom get better. She’s sick.” The Santa actor’s response, I later discovered, had been just as good. “Well,” he had whispered into the boy’s ear, “I’m going to need your special help this Christmas. You see, I’m not a doctor, but I want to help Sarah and her mom, too. The best way to do that is to bring them joy—that’s what Christmas is all about. So I need you to be the best friend that you can be for them. Can you give them that gift for me? I think it would make them very happy.”

If that noble child had not believed in Santa Claus—if he had been taught that Christmas presents only came from mom and dad—then that moment of beauty and grace would never have happened. Children need Santa Claus because there are Good desires in their hearts that their parents cannot satisfy, and they need someone to hear them. They need to know there is a force for absolute good in the world who sees and cares about them indiscriminately.

Adults, too, need Santa Claus—to remind them to love charitably, selflessly, and wholly. When they see their children’s letters to Santa asking for him to help the homeless, then parents should take the opportunity to serve the community as a family. Spend a day helping at a Feed the Needy; coordinate a blanket drive for the homeless; donate old toys to the underprivileged. Conversely, if a child’s “letter to Santa” is a toy catalog with everything in it circled, then parents should consider reassessing the values they are teaching in the home.

Inevitably, this always leads to the question: “Well, what about Jesus? Christmas is about Christ, not Santa.” Yes, yes it is. Christmas is about Christ—the embodiment of God’s perfect Charity and Love for mankind. Christmas is when God gave man the ultimate gift.

Comprehending the gift and power of God’s Love, however, can be difficult for children. It was certainly difficult for me—in fact it still is. Furthermore, not everyone is Christian, but that does not exclude them from the invitation to accept God’s gift of Love. Santa Claus—who takes his name from the charitable Saint Nicholas—is an incarnation of that spirit of love and desire for good, and he is the perfect myth to point us to God (when we let him).

When children are taught to believe in Santa as a force for goodness that embodies the spirit of true charity, they not only appreciate that selflessness; they start to participate in it. They are eager to help Santa bring joy to others—even after learning that no physical Santa Claus exists. In fact, it is after learning that he is not “real” that most people truly come to appreciate this revered myth. It is then that they begin to understand what Santa Claus represents and that he truly does exist in our hearts, manifest in the glory of God and the image of his love.

Republished with gracious permission from The New Lyceum.

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The featured image is a photograph of a man dressed as Santa Claus on his sleigh aboard a holiday train in Chicago. The copyright holder of this file, Douglas Rahden, allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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