Every December this question is debated: Should parents tell their kids that Santa Claus is real? Throughout this debate, two arguments have been made in opposition to this question. First, Santa is not real. If you tell your kids that he is, then you are lying to them. This action breaks the ninth commandment. Second, Santa Claus steals the glory which is due to Jesus Christ. The kids look forward to presents from him instead of marveling at the incarnation of God to save sinners. The result is that Santa’s shadow puts the Light of the world in the dark.
While these arguments are persuasive, I want to present a third reason. Promoting this tradition deifies Santa Claus. The incommunicable attributes that belong to God alone are given to an imposter. Santa Claus’ character eerily resembles God’s attributes. To make my case, I will examine a classic Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Since it has been a popular song for generations, the song has informed many about Santa’s qualities. I will compare the lyrics to the Scriptures to evaluate how Santa has been deified. As you will see from my conclusions, it is unwise and idolatrous to promote the myth of Santa in your home since it takes the attributes of the one true God and bestows them to a fictional character.
1. A Book with Names
This classic song contains the following phrase, “He’s making a list. Checking it twice.” Santa has a list separating children who are naughty from the kids who are nice. The Bible alludes to a book with names contained in it too. Revelation 21:27 says, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” A person must have their name in God’s book to enter into everlasting life with the Lord.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you are awake.” The song teaches that Santa is omnipresent. He sees a child as he sleeps in his bed. He knows the hour that the child goes to sleep and the moment when the boy wakes up. This cannot be explained away based on having the north pole elves. Santa is the one who sees the child. Therefore, he must be everywhere to see every child simultaneously.
Second, Santa has the impossible task of visiting every house in the world in one night. How can he visit possibly seven billion people if he did not possess the attribute of being everywhere at the same time?
When we turn to the Bible, it teaches us that only God is omnipresent. Psalm 139:7-10 reinforces the point.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
By promoting the Santa myth, a person should use this Psalm to describe Santa. No one can flee from Santa’s presence. As a result of buying into the Santa narrative, we take away the unique quality that God alone is omnipresent.
Santa knows everything about everyone. The next lyric in the song states, “He knows if you have been bad or good.” Since Santa is omnipresent, then he knows all the details of our lives. On this basis, he determines if a person has been bad or good. Santa must have an extraordinary mind to keep track of the infinite bits of data for the entire world population. He must have a god-like ability to keep tract of the actions for every person for 365 days.
In a parallel manner, God is omniscient. Hebrews 4:13 says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” God observes everyone’s thoughts, words, and deeds for the purpose of judgment. A person does not risk losing a present, but they could lose their soul in the Lake of Fire.
4. Total Depravity
This Christmas song teaches a theology of man. “So be good for goodness sake!” It assumes that children have the moral ability in them to be good. Therefore, do it! In theological terms, the song promotes Pelagianism. A child does not need to cooperate with grace (Semi-Pelagian) or be the object of irresistible grace (Augustinianism) to be good.
The Bible advocates the opposite understanding. Romans 3:10 states, “None is righteous, no, not one.” Titus 1:15 shows that man is defiled. He is not inherently good. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” Promoting this myth only reinforces the great deception that all men are good.
5. Prophetic Return
Every year Santa Claus returns to town from out of the clouds. “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Santa’s prophetic return is foretold year after year. While we know the date, a child does not know the hour. But he can be assured that the old man with a white beard will come if the boy has been good.
God promises that Jesus Christ will return too. Matthew 24:44 declares, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” In the Santa myth, we prepare by being good throughout the year and by providing milk and cookies by the Christmas tree. In contrast, the Bible warns us to prepare for Christ’s second advent by coming to Him in faith and repentance.
This Christmas jingle teaches salvation by faith plus works. A child must believe that Santa is real. If he does not believe, then he will not be on the nice list. However, the salvation of Christmas presents is not based upon faith alone. A child must be good. Faith plus good behavior provides presents for the child. If a child is naughty by pouting and crying, then Santa will not visit his house.
Paul instructs us from Ephesians 2:8-9 that salvation is based upon faith alone. “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God’s ways are antithetical to the idolatrous religions of man. Every false religion requires human merit to obtain everlasting life. By encouraging a child to embrace the Santa myth, a parent is unknowingly instilling a salvation by works system into their child.
7. Motivation for Obedience
The motivation for obedience in this Christmas classic is self-centered. If a child obeys, then he will get presents. The child does not love Santa for his character and worth. Instead, a child loves Santa in direct correlation to the value and quantity of his gifts.
In Christianity, our primary motivation is God-centered. Our motivation is love. We respond to the love that God has shown to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for us despite our rebellion and hatred towards Him. As 1 John 4:19 explains, “We love because he first loved us.” We respond to Christ’s initiation of love by loving Him for who He is and what He has done.
After reading this list, some of you may still hold reservations. You may be thinking, “You are taking the Santa tradition too seriously. It will not do any harm. It is a fun game. It makes Christmas more exciting.” If I still have not convinced you, then let me make one final appeal. Does celebrating Santa cause your child’s heart to rejoice in Santa more than Jesus Christ? Is there more love and excitement for St. Nick? Does your child value Santa’s presents more than Christ’s gift of eternal life? If this is the case, then your child is worshiping Santa as if he is god. The deified Santa rules in your child’s heart.
The Scriptures teach that our hearts should be set on God alone. Psalm 9:1 says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” What better day than Christmas to sing praises to God with a whole heart and not half-heartedly! What greater occasion to recount Jesus’ Christ’s atonement for sinners!
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.