Santa Claus & Children's Ministry

It happens almost every year. One kid comes to the Christmas Eve service with a personal mission to prove Santa is not real. Besides the disruption, it creates a situation where one child is calling someone’s mom a liar. It leads to a question...

How do you handle the whole issue of Santa Claus in your ministry? How would you redirect a group of children at church who are debating his existence? What advice would you give Christian parents and grandparents about Santa?

There’s no way around it, pretty much every kid in America is going to know about Santa Claus. Thanks to Coca-Cola, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and mall atriums everywhere, the jolly ole’ man in red is a cultural Christmas staple who probably isn’t going away any time soon. But as Christian parents or Sunday School teachers, is it a good idea for us to teach our kids that Santa Claus is coming to town?

I think we’ll all agree that during the Advent season, it’s our job to teach kids about the true meaning of Christmas—that Christmas is about Jesus’ incarnation and birth as a baby in Bethlehem. It is about God saving people created in his own image by coming to earth Himself as a man. As long as the incarnated Jesus is the focus of our stories and celebrations, I think it’s fine to tell your kids about Santa. After all, unless they’ve been completely sheltered from the culture, they probably already know.

Here are two key things to consider when teaching kids about Santa Claus:

  1. Teach Kids about St. Nicholas. Nicholas of Myra lived in the 13th century. He's famous for paying the dowries of three poor girls in his town by leaving coins in stockings they had hung up to dry. The Saint Who Would Be Santa by Adam English is the best research I've found on Nicholas. English argues that of all the legends about Nicholas, the one about him paying the dowry for the poor girls is the one that carries the most historical weight. It's repeated often and it's never attributed to a different one of the Catholic or Orthodox saints, so it rings true. I've also found the Christian History Made Easy video (embedded below) by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones to be a helpful resource. If you're a history geek, you'll love the discovery that Santa Claus likely slapped the heretic Arius during a counsel debate. 

    One way to point our kids to Christ and away from Christian commercialism is to trace Santa back to his roots in the life of a real man who was changed by living in relationship with the Lord. We do well to celebrate Nicholas's life and teach about him to our kids.
  2. Remind kids that they’ll never be good all the time! Santa is not our judge, but if he  really was making a list, none of us would be on his “nice” list. Let’s be honest, we’re all still naughty deep down in our hearts. There has been only One who made it on the “nice” list. Jesus, being born of a virgin in a little manger in Bethlehem, was the only person who made it onto God’s “nice” list. And we have hope because, through faith in Him, God has made it possible for us to be added to that list as well! He sees us in all our sin, but He still gives us His good and perfect gifts. So the next time a group of kids are arguing over Santa’s existence, try to point them to Jesus by saying, “If Santa is real, could you really make it onto his nice list?” and by reminding them that Jesus is the true reason for the season.

I wrote the original version of this post with my friend Fletcher Lang for a December 2009 edition of Tony Kummer's Children’s Ministry Think Tank. You can follow the responses of other Children’s Ministry leaders here.

What do you teach your kids about Santa Claus?