Santa Claus (Photo: Pexels)


Dec 24, 2018 by Alyssa Duvall

John Piper: Don't Distract Kids From Jesus With The Santa Myth

Christian theologian and author John Piper offered a firm warning for parents who present Santa Claus to their children as a real person while also trying to keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus. For Piper, “a non-gospel, pathetic myth like Santa Claus” who gives gifts based on good behavior cannot coexist during the holiday season with the message of God's grace and the gift of his Son.

In an AskPastorJohn podcast posted on Desiring God earlier in December, Piper gave his take on the hotly debated subject when a listener asked the following question:

“Dear Pastor John, I’m a stay-at-home mother of three small children (5, 4, 2). My husband and I grew up as children believing Santa Claus to be real, and while it was truly magical for those nine years, when I found out that it wasn’t true, I remember burying my head and sobbing. I was not angry at my parents; I knew they wanted to surprise me and make Christmas special. However, I was truly disappointed.

“Now as a mother, I feel torn between Scriptures — like ‘Do not lie to one another’ (Colossians 3:9) — and yet still desiring to create something mythical and special and magical for my children around Christmas. I fear more emphasis is placed on the bearded man in a suit than on Jesus, our Savior! My question is, What if my husband feels differently, and actually wants to keep the Santa myth alive for our children? What, Pastor John, should I do?”

“Are we misleading the children in telling them this story as a simple statement of facts?” Piper responded, explaining that it is impossible to teach children that Santa is real without lying to them. “Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. Santa Claus flies with reindeer. Santa Claus leaves gifts under the tree. Santa Claus is served by elves. To present this myth as fact is not truthful to our children.”

Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, further clarified the differences between expressly fictional works (such as C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, fables, fairy tales, and even the parables Jesus told to his followers) and presenting the Santa myth as a matter of fact.

“The children should know that they’re made up and they should know why parents tell children made-up stories,” Piper explained. “It’s a good thing, I think, to tell children made-up stories.”

The biggest objection Piper cited against Santa Claus is its distraction from the “thrilling truth” of God's gift to the world:

“Why would a Christian who has found in Jesus Christ the greatest treasure in the world trade it for anything else? Why would they — who see in the incarnation and life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus the most amazing story in the world — tell another story?”

“Why would they replace it with such a non-gospel, pathetic myth like Santa Claus, whose message is ‘You better be good, and you better not cry’? I just can’t imagine it,” Piper continued.

Piper also contended that superimposing Santa Claus mythology over Christmas reveals a cultural compromise that can confuse kids: "It’s a syncretistic compromise with culture: ‘Poor Jesus. He’s invisible. Santa Claus is not. You can see him at the mall. Poor Jesus doesn’t make any rounds on a sled in the sky, leaving toys under the tree.'"

Ultimately, Piper says, Santa Claus can do real damage in the form of obstructing a parent's mission to share the gospel with their children.

"If Christ cannot compete with Santa in the hearts of our kids, we don’t know the real Christ or there is no real Christ," Piper concluded.

"Your children have Christ-shaped empty spaces in their hearts. They don’t know this. You must show them, but it can’t be done with Santa Claus, only Christ.”

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