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One Answer to the Christian Debriefing
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Last weekend I received a phone call from a former member of a church I served years ago, now living in the Midwest. She was upset over something that may be more common than it may seem.

Her youngest daughter, born after she left Effingham, is perhaps about 6 years old now. Her daughter went to a friend’s house recently for a girls’ get-together, where an older girl told her there was no Santa Claus. According to my friend, the girl was particularly insulting in her attack. “How can you be so stupid? Do you really think someone in a red suit….?”

The little girl held it together until she got in the car. Then she burst into tears, asking her mother, “Mom, is she right? Is there really no Santa Claus?” This conversation was not one my friend was planning on having at that moment, and she was understandably irritated.

“Pr. Bob, what do I tell her?” she asked.

I wanted to provide an answer that would help, one that would go beyond the wisdom in the oft-quoted column “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Yet, there are so many sensitivities here, that any good answer has to be taken in context of the family’s beliefs (in this case, a Christian framework), culture, and relationships.

Now, I understand that not all Christians choose to tell their children about Santa and reindeer. But, in this case, I have a faithful woman who would like an answer from me, and her daughter who would like an answer from her mother. So, I tried.

I approached my answer from two vantage points – one practical and one theological. Both, I hope, help reduce any negative impact on the child, while the latter may help the young girl understand Christianity as she grows.

First, there actually was a real person who we now refer to as Santa Claus. The persona of Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas of Myra, a fourth century Christian bishop who was well-known for his generous gift-giving.

About 800 years after Saint Nicholas lived, a tradition of giving was continued in his name, in which children were given gifts (usually right before his “saint day,” December 6). After the Reformation, the date of giving was moved to December 25. At that point, Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus. Martin Luther promoted the idea of gift giving to be associated with Christ, rather than a saint.

True, there are no flying reindeer in this story, no Mrs. Claus or elves. That was added to the legend, and I don’t think that embellishment should be avoided.

Still, it is also true to say that there indeed was a Santa Claus and we continue his tradition of giving gifts on December 25.

Now we get to the theological answer. I explained to my friend that her focus should be on what that day means. In addition, I do not think explaining to a child that some things were described to them in a certain way because it was best for them to learn it that way before being taught more about that topic is entirely ineffective. That idea is understandable to a child, as long as you then follow up and provide a new, more complete explanation.

In that regard, I explained there is an important concept to get across that I believe will serve her daughter well as she grows in the faith.

On Christmas Day, God gave to all of us the best gift of all – His Son, Jesus. This Jesus went on to teach us about God, to perform miracles showing the power of His Father, and in the end, to save us all so we can live a better life and be with Him in heaven one day. (No deep concepts like the Trinity or Resurrection is necessary here, though some older children may be able to understand.)

So, we now give to each other out of our love for one another in remembrance of the greatest gift ever given out of love for us – our Lord, Jesus Christ. The idea of Santa helps us have fun as we remember the Christian who first started giving gifts out of love. But the real reason we put up a tree and put gifts around it is the manger under it.

And the best part is that, when all is said and done, there is no analysis of who is good and who is bad, because only one person was and is “good.” So, we don’t have to be all good to get God’s gifts. We just have to believe in Him.