Jesus and Santa shaking hands
Parents worry that if Santa is involved then children will be more focused on material goods, as opposed to the holiday’s religious importance. 

There was a time when Christmas was centered around one thing and one thing only: the celebration of the birth of Christ. It's literally in the name: Christ Mass.

Those days are long gone. 

Christmas is still a religious holiday, obviously – but it’s also a secular holiday, and many people treat it as something in between. With Christmastime encompassing everything from baking gingerbread men, to socially-encouraged gluttony, to rampant commercialism, it’s safe to say that Jesus Christ is no longer the sole focus. 

In fact, in many ways he’s been supplanted by a different figure – one with much more direct appeal to children: Santa Claus.

This presents a serious challenge for Christian families who wish to pass down religious traditions to their children and keep the focus of the holiday on Christ. How do you balance celebrating Jesus with children’s adoration for Santa?

Whom to Celebrate, and How to Celebrate

There’s no doubt that parents who want Christmas to be about the birth of Jesus face an uphill battle. Because despite it being his birthday, Jesus sure takes a noticeable backseat to a host of other things children see in December: festive decorations, bright light displays, and Christmas trees. 

In fact, outside of a nativity scene here or there, the holiday season is largely a secular affair in popular culture. And the dominating figure is not Jesus, but the big man in the red suit himself: Santa Claus.

For children, Santa is a universally beloved figure (he’s a jolly old man who shows up with a massive sack of gifts each year, how could he not be?). 

That creates an enduring tension in Christian households. Parents worry that their children will be more focused on material goods, as opposed to the holiday’s religious importance. 

While most Christians are able to generally balance the fun of Santa with the importance of Jesus, some are ready to cancel Santa altogether.

That's what Pastor David Grisham did in 2016 when he went to a mall and recorded himself telling children waiting in line to meet Santa that Santa isn't real. "Kids, I want to tell you today that there is no such thing as Santa Claus," he begins. "Santa Claus does not exist. The Christmas season is about Jesus!"

If it wasn't clear, Grisham's apparently not a big fan of Santa hogging the seasonal spotlight. In a now-deleted video from 2010, he recorded himself and others mock-executing a figure of Santa by firing squad.

Obviously that's a pretty extreme reaction. Is there a way to find compromise here?

Can’t You Just Celebrate Both?

Children get excited to hang stockings, make a wish list, mail a letter to the North Pole and leave out a plate of cookies for Santa. Heck, parents get excited for these rituals too. They read books about the night before Christmas together, get dressed in special Christmas pajamas, and sing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” until they are hoarse. For some families, the holiday would not be complete without these traditions. 

They ask: what is the harm in enjoying and spreading a little magic during Christmas time? The historical figure of Saint Nicholas is well-documented, and the legend of his counterpart Santa Claus is rooted in the spirit of love and giving, after all. 

Why not take the birth of the Savior and enjoy it with a side of Kris Kringle? 

And even if Christmas has become commercialized, that doesn’t necessarily mean the religious aspects lose importance, proponents argue. In fact, perhaps this shift has helped to further crystalize why those spiritual lessons still matter. 

The tradition of giving to those in need around the holidays is a great example. What could be more Christ-like than helping up the least of us during the darkest time of the year? Even if it’s Santa’s face, not Jesus’s, on a Christmas card – does that diminish the intent behind the act? 

The pro-Santa camp would probably argue that it doesn’t. 

Where do you stand?

37 comments

  1. Dave J's Avatar Dave J

    I don't really see the difference between Jesus and Santa. Both are mythical figures imbued with a spirit of giving and caring for your fellow humans. In our house when the children were small, they never thought of Santa as a real person. Santa is a feeling, and as such he embodies the care we can feel. Jesus is the same way, he fellowshipped with everyone, helped the downtrodden, etc. If you want the season to be about your version of caring and Jesus, you better move it to August or September. And for Odin's sake, don't celebrate it on a day of the week named after some other religion's gods. (Friday, Saturday, etc.) Get over yourselves. Christmas is a commercial enterprise. Get with the spirit. Spend money! Give presents! Help those less privileged than you are! And have your self a merry little Christmas now.

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    Well, now, boys and girls, let's give credit where credit is due.

    • First up, there is more reliable documentation that Santa Clause (St. Nicholas) was a real flesh & blood person than there is that Jesus existed at all. • Next up, Christmas is, theoretically, a celebration of Jesus' birth, which, by the only account (christian bible) did not occur in December no matter what calendar is used.
    • And, in which Bethlehem did the birth occur? • So, the real false-hood is by the very people who want to keep "christ in christmas". The holiday was observed (but not so-named) by a multitude of unchristian tribes and religions long before 0000 BCE/CE • So, boys and girls, Mesdames et Monsieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen, the real Grinch of Christmastide are christians, the very people who shovel their dung-filled lies about the holiday.

    So, ignore the grinches, enjoy the entire holiday season, celebrate any and all the holidays you wish, and spread cheer and goodwill to all.

  1. Alicia Szot's Avatar Alicia Szot

    "Christmas" was NOT always about Jesus. The Winter Solstice/Yule was the Pagan holiday celebrated with decorations, parties and presents. When the church wanted to convince Pagans to join, they chose December 25 as being the "birth of Jesus" (or, the birth of the Son) because it was in close proximity to December 21, which was the "re-birth of the Sun". Here you go, Pagans! You don't even have to change your celebrations! Just do it a couple of days later.

    To this day, cards are sent with "Yuletide Greetings" and the Yule log is burned.

    1. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

      I am a practitioner of a modern reconstruction of the beliefs and practices of my Germano-Norse ancestors.

      The 12 Days of Yule is part of that, though I celebrate the 12 Nights of Yule, starting the night before Winter Longest Night (aka Winter Solstice). I use the convention of celebrating that as Mother's Night, where I hold a special observance honoring the memory of my mom, grandmother, great grandmothers and back.

      The 12th Night of Yule is celebrated as the First Night of the New Year.

      I left Christianity in 1975, so the Jesus vs Santa argument is of intellectual interest, not personal.

  1. Matthew Mastrogiovanni's Avatar Matthew Mastrogiovanni

    After seeing the "Christian Right" in action, I say we need more Santa and less Christians. Cause it's Christians who've lost the true spirit of the holiday, not children.

  1. Dorothy E. Cogswell's Avatar Dorothy E. Cogswell

    We can have both

    1. Colleen McAllister's Avatar Colleen McAllister

      Amen

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    Sorry but there IS a Santa Clause, the proper name is St Nicholas. If you cant even get that portion right then why should anyone worry about the story when the main factor is a lie...

  1. Franz Von Hofler's Avatar Franz Von Hofler

    dec.25 is the birthday of mitr.mithras, the lord of light who cult came to europe from persia. he was a god of light, justice, and honor. ussualy worshiped by roman and later military men. women were not involved. there for jesus of nazereth does not have any position histrically for this guy to harrass other people about their fantacy while missubderstanding his own. sept. 19 was jesus of nazereth;s birthday, if you want a manger buy it with school cloths and leave otheres in peace, because thats your holiday. Happy Holidays. (PLURAL).

  1. Charlene Newman's Avatar Charlene Newman

    Christmas is a beautiful Energy and Spirit of caring for, giving to and helping othes. It is the one time of the year that many people feel more open to this Energy.

    We often focus on the physical, but God is Energy and Spirit, Jesus said that we must serve God in Spirit and in Truth. '

    What ever things that be of good report' serves us well to focus on; whether that is:

    seeing the joy in small children on Christmas Day,

    or love ones who are thankful and happy for family and friends gathering together,

    or our honoring the Christ Child and what He came to teach us. We all do well to focus on the Spirit and Energy of Good (God).

    Happy Holidays

  1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

    I REALLY DO NOT BELIEVE that JESUS CHRIST WOULD APPROVE of the WAY CHRISTMAS HAS BEEN and STILL is CELEBRATED, COMMECIAL B S !

    1. Matthew Mastrogiovanni's Avatar Matthew Mastrogiovanni

      Why not? Didn't Jesus receive: gold, frankincense and myrrh for Christmas? I don't remember any stories about anyone complaining about that.

      1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

        MAYBE, but DID HE JESUS MAKE A LIST,or EVEN ASK for IT, SCREAM, CRY, ANNOY EVERYONE AROUND HIM for IT, LIKE I'M SURE YOUR KIDS DO !

        1. Dave J's Avatar Dave J

          Is there a reason you are yelling? It doesn't make your point any stronger, in fact the opposite.

          1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

            YEAH DAVE J, I AM HARD of HEARING ALL the B S on HOW NOT MY KIDS, YEAH RIGHT, HYPOCRITES !

        2. Richard Steven Kopcho's Avatar Richard Steven Kopcho

          Maybe some children are like that, but mine weren't. They were always thrilled with the season, slightly terrified of a guy who flew with reindeer and sneaked into the house when they were sleeping. Maybe it depends how the family presents and talks about Saint Nicholas. Sorry you have such a terrible opinion of children and their relationship to the king of the elves and the patron saint of children.

      2. Dave J's Avatar Dave J

        Of course if three wise women showed up they would have brought diapers, a casserole, and a certificate for a massage. :-)

  1. Stewart's Avatar Stewart

    They are running scared the very methods their founders used to abolish existing religions are being used against them in the name of corporate greed grub up those dollars .

    Most of this much ado about nothing is not because of religion per se but look at me I am somebody Matthew 6:1 King James Version

    Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

    They preach one thing but do the opposite .

  1. Minister Ivette 's Avatar Minister Ivette

    I cannot believe in people who go to such extremes as to make children cry, that is definitely not the Christian way. I raised my children with Santa Clause, Jesus and God Almighty. Santa Clause is not a lifetime belief. After a certain age, they know who the gift givers really are. But the belief in Jesus and God is for life, and they are who they pray and turn to. Let them enjoy the holiday as they wish

    1. flugo's Avatar flugo

      'mini ivy'; You condone your children 'praying' to and 'turning' to Santa?! Wow! I admire your responsible parenting, your instilling into your kids the effectiveness of 'Santa homage'! Good luck!

      1. T Kosse`'s Avatar T Kosse`

        What didn't Santa give you what you wanted as child flugo is that why you are such a Grinch.

        1. flugo's Avatar flugo

          'tea cozy': Yep! Teach 'em about the the existence/activities of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, etc. A great way for kids to learn honesty, truth and veracity from their parents/adults! The world needs more parents like you!

          1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

            HEAR YE, HEAR YE, HEAR YE, RIGHT ON FLUGO, THEY CAN'T WAIT to ORDER from AMAZON !

    2. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      But children also cry (but often they are older children) when they find out their parents indoctrinated them into a religious belief that cannot be demonstrably proven to be true. I know of many that have been so traumatised by religion to the point of considering suicide. I don’t know any that have been that traumatised when they found Santa wasn’t real.

      🦁❤️

      1. Shawn Allen Hank's Avatar Shawn Allen Hank

        If you remember I presented a logically valid argument for the existence of God. There is also Anselm's Ontological argument, which has been modified. It too is a valid logical argument. However, your mere disgust and hatred of God is absolute proof of his existence. If God does not exist, then why are all you nonbelievers so salty? lol You use this platform to cry a river over someone you claim does not exist. Such a bloody waste of time for f sakes. lol

        1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

          Thank you for your less intelligent and vitriolic reply, often expected from theists, so I’m used it. I not only don’t see any demonstrable evidence of any god, even yours, I don’t see any factual evidence of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Fairies, Leprechauns etc, and I suspect you don’t either. And the reason is because neither of us have any sufficient demonstrable evidence they are real, just like your imaginary god.

          I actually don’t have any disgust for your fictitious god, and why should I? That would be like saying if I had disgust for Voldemort it would prove he was real. Can you see how illogical your statement is? I strongly suspect you don’t, being as you clearly don’t understand logic, and what that is. If you did, you’d understand why using logic and reason sees no evidence for any deity.

          Happy holidays Shawn. Stay safe and we’ll during these difficult times.

          🦁❤️

  1. T Kosse`'s Avatar T Kosse`

    Christmas is mostly for the children anyway let them have their Santa because their life should be filled with magic and wonder. They will be much better people when they get older because of it.

    1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

      YEAH and MAYBE next YEAR SANTA tRUMP dressed in ORANGE GARB, BEING PULLED by HIS G O Pigs WILL DELIVER ALL YOUR DREAMS of EVER FOREVER, GET REAL, REAL NOT REALITY, DREAMS are for SLEEP, FEEDING your KIDs is REALITY, NOT BUYING CHEAP CRAP MADE IN CHINA or ANYWHERE for THAT FACT !!!

  1. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

    To me it really doesn't matter. There are just too many holidays at this time of year that make up the entire season joyful. That's what matters more to me.

  1. flugo's Avatar flugo

    'Standoff'?! Whatta crock!. The King of Kings; the sovereign Creator and Lord of all; the unchanging, holy, loving, living God . . . in a 'standoff' with Santa Clause?! What an epitome of the absurd, the blasphemous, the vain!

  1. Angela Hartfelder's Avatar Angela Hartfelder

    Why, oh why, are you giving this narcaccistic miserable excuse for a human any more attention than he's already had? He got his 15 minutes of fame in malls and on street corners back in the day in the Texas panhandle and even the hyperconservative belt buckle of the bible belt people there couldn't stand him and quite giving him the limelight he so coveted. So he up and moved to Alaska to see if he could start anew there. Please stop feeding his ego! There are far better ways to get the point across, even if it is an inaccurate and flawed perspective as several have already pointed out.

  1. Richard Steven Kopcho's Avatar Richard Steven Kopcho

    For a few thousand years before Christmas humanity celebrated the winter solstice and the yule season. "Christmas" is a mash up of many sacred and wonderful "pagan" (christian term for non-christian) religions, plus christian, jewish and increasingly other modern religions. Saint Nicholas should be recognized and embraced as many entities: the spirit of the solstice and the personification of winter, the christian and patron saint of children, king of the elves and fairies. Just don't reduce Santa to the commercialized present toting caricature presented in hollywood movies and advertising media. Keep him mysterious and magical - he should be understood as a kind of mystery. then there is no conflict with those who want the holiday to be centered on Jesus. Of course that is the battle - commercial entities want to shape and sell his image and concept simply for profit and commercial gain. We must keep him as something far more mysterious, magical and wonderful and resist all the forces that seek to make him common and vulgar.

  1. Jonathan Evangelista's Avatar Jonathan Evangelista

    The battle is the lords. Jesus Christ our king has drawn the line brothers and sisters. Hail to the alpha and omega. Repent and believe in the gospel.

  1. Colleen McAllister's Avatar Colleen McAllister

    First of all the name is Santa Claus no E at the end. I see no standoff. The two mesh very well in my home. Both are real people at the core of it. Using the secular trappings of Santa Claus does not negate that I worship Christ. I know of no one who worships Santa. My belief is summed up in one of my favorite decorations that I place first each year. It is a small figurine of Santa kneeling before the baby Jesus. Everything bows before my Lord.

    Merry Christmas

  1. Kimberlee Renee' Griffith's Avatar Kimberlee Renee' Griffith

    Satan has fooled the masses once again by changing one letter around in his name. Move the N in satan to make Santa. He will try to take away the praise of Jesus the Saviors birth and trick man kind into greed, anger, going into debt, feelings torn. Etc. And mankind will eat with me instead of Jesus, on his celebrated day. The great deceiver is making himself look jolly, so the uninformed can revel in his grand trickery every year... Christ mass is about Christ, Jesus. Can you not see the lies that are satan. The world is deeply corrupt and very few are truly happy anymore. And isn't that what jolly satan Santa wants.

    Jesus, we pray for your kingdom to come home here on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for being born human and living like us humans. You felt what we feel and you know are hearts, as you were born and died as one of us. We celebrate YOUR BIRTHDAY KING JESUS...for you were born on Christmas day !!!

  1. Teresa Louise Barberot's Avatar Teresa Louise Barberot

    Children should be taught about balance and moderation about the material world everyday. Not just at Christmas. Only gaining material wealth does not define us or make us feel whole should we suddenly lose the wealth. Teaching children that self-esteem, confidence and self-worth comes from virtues and spiritual values that are practiced by their family traditions. They can enjoy Santa and not lose who they are in their family religion. I am Christian so I still enjoy saying Merry Christmas - not the generic Happy Holidays. We can all live in this world and respect the differences in traditions and religions among us.

  1. Daniel J. Trebas's Avatar Daniel J. Trebas

    Okay. Here's a possibility: The "santa" in Santa claus is a title for "saint". Similar to how the "Christ" in Jesus Christ is also a title. Sooooo...remove the titles, combine what's left and we could have a "Jesus Claus". Yep, Santa could be Jesus in disguise (dressed up like his dad maybe?) Who does the Santa gig to get away from all the sanctimonious and serious "Christians" and have some fun. Oh - and the elves could really be leprechauns working part time. Anyway - the point of saying all that was to just say it helps to lighten things up, if not, then the Jesus Claus may have YOU be the next angel with a Christmas tree up your backside.

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