How should parents handle the issue of Santa Claus with their children?
Many parents are concerned regarding what to tell their children about Santa Claus. What are some guidelines to help with this issue?
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First, it is helpful to know there was a historical figure upon whom the modern Santa stories are based. Saint Nicholas of Myra was a priest who lived in the fourth century. His parents left him an inheritance when they died. He was known for giving anonymous gifts and sometimes leaving bags of money in people's homes or even down a chimney to avoid being discovered.
Nicholas of Myra died by the 350s. The day of his death became an annual feast during which children would leave out food for Nicholas and straw for his donkey. It was said the saint would come from heaven and leave toys and treats for good boys and girls. Over the years, many variations of this tradition have developed into Santa Claus accounts told today.
But what should parents say to young children about Santa? Some choose to "play along" and pretend Santa comes from the North Pole on Christmas Eve night to give gifts. Other parents feel convicted to tell the real story of Saint Nicholas while also including the giving of gifts. Still others prefer to downplay the role of Santa and focus on the birth of Jesus Christ, the true reason to celebrate Christmas.
Each parent will need to discern the best way to approach the issue. However, a parent should never "pretend" to the extent that he or she is lying to their children. First Peter 3:10 teaches, "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit." Of concern to parents is what may happen when the child feels lied to by a parent. Trust can then be broken, causing trouble in other areas of life.
One helpful approach may be to begin with teaching a child about the true reason for Christmas with the account of the birth of Jesus. As your child asks about Santa, you can share the historical story of Santa as a kind man who gave gifts to others. Still today, those who celebrate Christmas celebrate through the giving of gifts.
Each child will then have various levels of questions regarding details of Santa and related ideas. As a parent, there is nothing wrong with pretending along with your children or even making a "list for Santa," though the focus is to be on the celebration of Christ's birth and becoming a child who desires to give gifts to others. This focus can help a child better understand the birth of Jesus and the need to live with an attitude to serve and give to others.
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