Ah, Santa. The jolly, lovable guy in red . . . who actually causes some parents to scratch their heads. What’s a family—one that desires to teach their kids the real meaning of Christmas—to do about St. Nick?

Author John Piper addressed the great Santa debate in a widely shared 2015 article. He stated, “Not only is Santa Claus not true and Jesus is very truth himself, but compared to Jesus, Santa is simply pitiful and our kids should be helped to see this.”

Piper elaborated by pointing out differences between Santa and Jesus: Santa offers only earthly gifts while Jesus’ are eternal, Santa’s generosity is based on works while Jesus offers grace to all, and Santa only appears once a year.

I agree with his statements, yet my husband and I were still left to wrestle through how to address Santa in our home when we became parents. We wanted to handle all aspects of Christmas, Santa included, in a way that was true to our beliefs. But did that mean excluding all of the make-believe parts too?

We may not be doing it “right” by some people’s standards, but here’s where we’ve landed (so far) on the matter in the Harper household.

We treat Santa as a character

Like Mickey Mouse, he’s fun and we are fine watching movies and singing songs about him. We’ve even let our girls take photos with St. Nick in the mall, as we would Mickey Mouse at a Disney theme park. But we draw the line with the gifts.

We don’t pretend he sneaks into our house, comes down our chimney, or brings us anything. We wrap all of our daughters’ gifts and sign them with our names. I’ve never verbalized to my children that Santa is not a real person and that he hasn’t come to our living room, but I’ve never verbalized that Mickey isn’t real either. It’s simply understood.

I know that not everyone agrees with our approach, but it’s not my job to parent other people’s kids. I do not want my children to talk at school about Santa being a phony and ruin traditions for other families. In fact, my own parents are crazy about Santa.

Though I’ve never told my daughters outright that he is not real, I’m hoping our actions will lead them to truthful conclusions and, more importantly, direct their focus to the King of Kings.

Happy birthday, Jesus

Though we don’t outlaw Santa, my husband and I intentionally downplay him and do our best to shine a spotlight on Jesus. One way we do this is by decorating a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas morning before a single gift is unwrapped.

Similarly, when I’m asked for gift ideas for my daughters, I always ask for Christmas books that focus on the real meaning of Christmas. We’ve received some incredible picture books over the years that point to Jesus.

The greatest gift of all

I don’t believe we’re missing out on anything by not giving specific gifts from Santa. We still decorate our house, attend and host many festive gatherings, exchange gifts, sing Christmas songs, and have a decked-out tree in our living room. Like most families, we take in the beauty and fun of Christmas.

Our approach to Santa may vary from year to year, as our daughters’ ages, friend group, influencers, and maturity level change. That’s why my husband and I are committed to reevaluating how we handle him from year to year. In the meantime, we are staying on fun and friendly terms with Santa but saving our best for Jesus.

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