Now that it’s mid-January and the Christmas decorations have been put up, I have a confession to make: Last Christmas I almost killed Santa Claus.
And just so there’s no confusion here, I don’t mean that I nearly ran over one of those mall Santas or almost single-handedly polished off an entire 1lb Santa Claus-shaped chocolate. (Not speaking from personal experience on either account!) When I say I almost killed Santa, I mean that I wanted to stop letting my kids believe that there’s a right jolly old elf that flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by gravity-defying reindeer, leaving presents for children to find on Christmas morning.
But Santa is still alive and well in la casa de Rigali, and I’m so glad that I never pulled the trigger. Here were my reasonings for putting down Santa, why we decided not to, and how through several real-life Santas our family was blessed with an amazing Christmas miracle.
The Case Against Santa Claus
First off, please note that I didn’t say “we” wanted to kill Santa. This was just a “me” thing; I’m who wanted to do this, and these were my reasons:
REASON 1: Santa can be a major distraction from the true reason we celebrate Christmas – to memorialize the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. I believe this will always be a slippery slope that could easily prevent children, and even adults, from knowing the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is a celebration of when the Savior of the world and God of all creation was born into the world to be with us, being fully human and yet still fully God (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23; Philippians 2:6-8). Although He was without sin, Jesus Christ took on our humanity to deal with our sin by willingly dying in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), conquering death, and being the hope of salvation to all who turn from sin and believe in Him (Romans 10:9-10). Through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can be reconciled with God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19), are adopted into His family as a child of God (Ephesians 1:13-14), and are given the promise of eternity in heaven (Romans 6:23, John 3:16-18) – something we could never do on our own, no matter how “good” of a person we think we are.
No greater gift has ever been given than that of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is infinitely more amazing than anything Santa could leave under the tree or in a stocking, so I thought it might be best to just rid our home of Santa altogether.
REASON 2: Santa has a lot of Christ-like attributes; but in that light, he’d be a lousy counterfeit. One of the many names given to Santa, Kris Kringle, actually comes from the German Christkind’l “Christ child.”
Here are some of the apparent parallels between Santa and Christ:
The heart of the Christian faith is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. By contrast, Santa being real depends on a child’s ability to believe in him. In the classic Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, little Susie is a Santa skeptic who is told, “You must believe in Mr. Kringle – and keep right on believing. You must have faith in him.” To which she responds, “I believe, I believe…”
Jesus’ gift of salvation is replaced with Santa’s material gifts. Our call to personal holiness as a response to God’s saving work in our lives is replaced with behavior modification in the days leading up to Christmas, with Santa being the designated judge of who is “naughty and nice.”
In the Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Santa is said to know when you’re sleeping, awake, and if you’ve been good or bad – essentially he’s omniscient.
Santa is also as good as omnipresent, since he’s everywhere during the Christmas season and somehow able to bring gifts to kids around the world in one night. Psalm 139:7-8, Proverbs 15:3, and 2 Chronicles 16:9 are some verses that teach of the omnipresence of God.
The modern portrayal of Santa show him having white hair and a long beard “as white as snow,” a line about St. Nick from the famous poem titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore; Revelation 1:14 says of Jesus, ”The hairs of his head where white, like white wool, like snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.” He wears a suit of red; Revelation 19:13 says that Jesus is “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called the Word of God.”
Santa is said to live in the North Pole, which is situated at the very top of the globe; Psalm 48:2 says “beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.” Also, Isaiah 14:12-14 depicts Lucifer saying – after he rebelled against God – that he would exalt his throne “in the sides of the north.”
REASON 3: We’re not being truthful when we tell our kids about Santa and his more modern helper, the Elf on the Shelf.
The video below was taken during our first Christmas season in Texas, when Hope was two years old. The Elf on the Shelf species is hurt whenever they’re touched by tiny humans, so she had figured out a very resourceful work-around. (Although I’m still not sure if the sunglasses were necessary or just too fashionable to pass up! 😂🤩👌)
This last December, Hope asked this very astute question: “If Santa eats so many cookies, why doesn’t he have diabetes?” Mind you, she’s still just four years old. And when Mika was about eight, her working theory was that Santa was able to make it to everyone’s home in one night by bending the time-space continuum!
Obviously, keeping Santa alive around here is already a challenge of perpetuating a fictional story. But I also don’t want to lie to my kids. The 9th Commandment (Exodus 20:16) and verses like Proverbs 12:22 make it pretty clear that God, also, has strong feelings about lying liars with or without their pants on fire.
Children believe in Santa for several foundational years of their young lives. What happens when they figure out that he’s just make-believe? How could that realization make them skeptical about the real truths we’ve also been teaching them? In one of John MacArthur’s sermons from the ’90s, he said the following of children putting their faith in Santa:
“Is it any wonder that if I believe all that as a child, when I come to be an adult, I might have a hard time believing in a Transcendent God who does know everything, who is everywhere, who does have all power, who does keep His promises and His threats, and who does not save me and give me good gifts on the basis of my works but on the basis of His grace. If Santa has been my understanding of God, then I am in trouble. That’s why I say, hidden in the letters of Santa is Satan.”
The Reason We’ve Decided to Continue the Santa Tradition
* RAY HAS ENTERED THE CHAT. *
After I had worked myself up pretty good about why Santa needed to go, I brought my reasons to my husband. Ray took time to consider his decision. He also sought counsel and made sure he wasn’t ignoring any convictions that would be disobedient to God. We discussed the importance of keeping Jesus as the sole focus of Christmas. But Ray felt there was also value in keeping the surprise and wonder of Santa Claus as part of our family’s Christmas tradition.
It took nearly a decade for us to realize this, but in our marriage we’ve found that it’s best for us to make our decisions with God, with each other, and with the godly men and women in our life. And after all that, if there’s something that Ray and I are still not in agreement on, I’ll acquiesce as long as it doesn’t lead to us disobeying God. Ephesians 5:22-33 gives instruction on the dynamics of a marriage being like Christ and His church. As I believe that my husband’s role over me as my leader is God-ordained, I also believe that loving submission to my husband is “as to the Lord.” Now, most of the time Ray and I are closely aligned on our decisions, so I don’t have to sacrifice much in terms of going along with something against my own will. However, this decision regarding Santa was one of the first times I’ve had to acquiesce.
I trusted my husband’s decision, but I was still hesitant. And emotional! I think I even cried for a while when the girls asked to watch Santa movies or when I’d hear a Santa song come on the radio. But in the days leading up to Christmas, I felt relief when we had a parenting experience with Hope. She had “borrowed” and used all of her sister’s special Hello Kitty-themed lip gloss, and then got herself caught in a lie about it. It was pretty evident that my clever four-year-old was the culprit, but she sure tight-fisted that little lie.
I told her that I didn’t know the truth of what happened to the lip gloss, but asked if she knew the one person who sees everything she does even when no one else is around? I thought, “This is it. If she says anything about Santa knowing that she was being naughty or gets afraid of being on the ‘bad list,’ Santa has got to go.” But she responded that it’s God who knows everything she does. And then, between her little tears, she confessed that she had used up all of her sister’s lip gloss without asking. Even though Hope knew there’d be consequences, her belief in God led her to telling the truth and apologizing. I gave her the biggest hug and my heart felt lightened to know that Santa hasn’t diminish her knowledge and adoration for God.
When it was settled that Santa would still be hanging around, I also wanted to educate the girls about the origin of Santa Claus – the story of Saint Nicolas. There’s a really cool Veggietales movie called Saint Nicolas, A Story of Joyful Giving that I’d highly recommend. It teaches the history of the 4th century Christian saint from modern-day Turkey, and also reinforces the idea that we give gifts on Christmas because we’ve already been given the greatest gift in Jesus Christ.
Our Christmas Miracle and the Real-Life Santas
Recently I haven’t checked in on our running tally of medical bills, but I think it’s somewhere in the ballpark of $500,000? (Ray’s joked before that he has something like the U.S. National Debt Clock running in his head. And if you know what that looks like, it tells me that inside my husband’s head is one of the last places I’d want to be!)
Given everything going on with Ronin right now, we had very humble plans for Christmas 2023. Apart from what my daughters asked from Santa, I would be making each of them a handmade gift of their choosing. (Maybe I should mention here that Mika and Cami are 12 and 10 years old, respectively, and know that Santa’s actually Ray and me; but they still love playing along.) However, even with me starting to work on their presents in November, I was probably a bit too ambitious and the scare that sent Ronin back to the hospital threw all my plans out the window
For most of December, we had no presents under our tree – and my daughters were completely understanding. But then we were blessed with so many miracles.
First, two days after Ronin and I had flown on the Life Flight into Dallas (for the second time), Ray picked me up from the hospital. On the drive home, we stopped by a Walmart I’ve been to only once before to pick up an online order for my nephew. Not knowing if I’d have another opportunity to get out to a store before Christmas, I also grabbed small stocking stuffers for my four daughters. At the checkout counter, just as I was about to put my debit card in the reader, our church’s pastor beat me to it! As someone who majored in statistics/probability, the nerd in me wants to calculate the odds of this happening – even though I know there’s no need for chance in God’s providence. Through our pastor, God provided the means for us to fill our daughters’ stockings with candies and gifts.
Next, two days after Ronin’s first open-heart surgery, I went to visit him in the hospital and took the girls with me. Even though kids aren’t allowed in the Cardiac ICU, the girls like to accompany me so that they’re close to their baby bro. While at the hospital, we were invited to attend an event called “Snow Day.” None of us knew anything of what to expect – and it ended up being this amazing display of generosity and God’s provision! We were led into a large room full of thousands of toys; it looked like something out of a movie. The girls were each allowed to pick out several Christmas gifts for each other and for Ronin. Cami and Lani “shopped” for each other; Mika and Hope “shopped” for each other; I “shopped” for Ronin. And all of it was free! Just thinking back to it now makes me emotional all over again.
Staff from the hospital patiently helped each of my daughters load up wagons full of toys, then helped them wrap everything up while the girls munched on cookies, chocolate-covered fruit, and more sweet treats than any sane mother would let their kids consume. Hearing my daughters tell strangers that they felt so blessed was the best Christmas gift I could ask for. We drove back from Dallas in a truck that looked very much like Santa’s sleigh, and when we got home our barren Christmas tree was surrounded by a more gifts than we’ve ever had!
And then! We were touched by another miracle in the days just before Christmas. We still don’t know who it came from, but our family was blessed with a significant amount of money that was so greatly appreciated. We are so thankful for the church and the faithful people that have been actively helping and supporting us in so many ways through this season.
A month ago I never thought I’d be saying this, but now I’m thankful that Santa is still with us. By canceling our family’s Santa and Elf on the Shelf traditions, I think I would have been “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” I’m grateful that Ray made his decision, and that God’s wisdom told me to trust him. I’m still firm in my belief that Santa CAN be a huge distraction from the reason Christmas is celebrated IF parents aren’t careful. What works for our family might not work for others, and I respect differing opinions on how to handle Santa Claus. But our family has found a way of having Santa complement and enhance our teaching of who Jesus is and what He’s done for us.
Last Christmas I almost killed Santa. But now, in future Christmases, I’m hoping to BE a Santa! Having someone anonymously bless us with money in our time of need was such an amazing outpouring of God’s love. Last Christmas is one that our family will never forget, and I want this memory to be kept alive through a new Rigali family tradition. Wrapped up between all the lessons we’ve learned during this season, Ray and I have decided that we want to be able to share that same surprise and joy we’ve experienced with others by being a secret Santa family. What a joy it would be to anonymously bless others in their time of need? And what a beautiful way to teach the meaning of Christmas to our children – by spreading the joy of receiving the best gift we’ll ever be given, Jesus Christ.