Q: Dear Pastor,
Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season. How does Santa fit into this picture?

A: Aha! The Jesus vs. Santa debate! I knew it would need to be addressed at some point.

Yes, Christmas is about Jesus, the Christ-child whose birth Christians celebrate on December 25th. Those who do not believe in God or who do not acknowledge Christ this time of year are Santa-focused. Yet most Christian families celebrate both Santa and Jesus in America today. We want to honor God yet be sensitive to Christmas traditions, right? So how do we accomplish this?

Let me put your mind at ease as we celebrate the Advent week of love: the answer is found somewhere in the middle. In order to discuss Santa, we must return to Santa’s very Christian roots in the country of Turkey.

During the third century, a Turkish, Christian boy lost both of his parents to a disease epidemic when he was a young child. His parents were extremely wealthy, which left the young man a fortune. Orphaned but provided for, he followed God into the ministry inside the Catholic Church, eventually becoming a Bishop. His ministry became not one of service to the Church, but service to the world around him as he witnessed the needs of the sick, starving, families of poverty he saw in the towns and villages nearby. He generously supplied gifts to these people then branched out to other continents and nations. All of his life, he traveled the world spending his money to help the poor. As people encountered the “generous St. Nick” who visited under the cover of night, to secretly minister to their needs, the testimonies flew and the stories were told.

Santa is the modern day embodiment of that man’s life. Santa’s character has been embellished and Americanized over the years, but the generous, kind, man remains: serving the poor; giving gifts; random acts of kindness; outreach and service. Even Santa’s rooftops and reindeer can be found in European fables regarding St. Nick’s supernatural abilities. Tall-tales multiplied around the idea of a secret stranger who comes to bless the people in remarkable ways and must surely be a Saint—sent by God like an angel or heavenly host.

The story of Jesus, not to be diminished or ignored, shows us that gift-giving is emphasized by God, too. The three wise men each brought expensive presents to the Savior born in the manger. The frankincense, myrrh and gold became our illustration of giving at Christmastime in honor of Jesus. God’s plan for these original presents, we know now, was to provide a means of sustenance for the holy family. They would soon become refugees in Egypt due to Herod’s wrath, but God made a way for them to prosper even so. The Christ child would be safe and provided for when Joseph could not work for fear of being discovered.

Christmas is about love. The love of God so deep, that he sent his Son to be born of a virgin girl in Bethlehem. Blending the two the traditions of Santa and Jesus is an easy leap then, when you consider the tradition of gift-giving—which, after all, is an act of love toward your neighbor.

That said, I wouldn’t be a Pastor if I didn’t discuss the importance of emphasis: Jesus is the only reason for the season of Christmas. St. Nick was acting on Christ’s call and conviction on his life. Therefore, Jesus comes first, Santa second. And just like the European fables of rooftops and reindeer, be sure your children understand that those stories are tall-tales and legends. Don’t position poor Santa to be the villain later in life when your child finally realizes that Santa never did come to visit on Christmas Eve. Tell them about St. Nicholas who was a blessing to the world...just like Jesus.
Adrienne Greene pastors the Rockdale United Methodist Church near Harrison, OH. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: heavenchasepub@gmail.com or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030.