When does a holiday icon become a religious deity?

Modern courts have ruled that a Christmas tree is a secular symbol; meaning that it is a cultural icon but not a religious emblem. I’m not so sure this is true about Santa Claus.

We all know that charming conspiracy adults play on their children. Santa is a real person who comes to bring you toys, Christmas Eve.

Saying Santa is unreal is tantamount to blasphemy in our country. I’ve seen newscasters having to apologize after making a remark that insinuated that Santa was not real. Real newscasters breathlessly report the journey of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. (Talk about fake news!)

It also seems ironic to me that the very people who talk about a “war on Christmas” are among Santa’s biggest boosters. But maybe Christians should ask themselves who gets the most attention this season, Santa or Jesus? We should also point out that Santa is huge in non-Christian Japan and many other countries around the world for which the connection to Christianity is barely noticed.

What does the North Pole have to do with Bethlehem? Or snow, lights, evergreens…. In fact, what does it even have to do with St. Nicolas? Many people try to sanctify Santa Claus by identifying him with St. Nicolas— a Roman Catholic saint, who lived in the region of modern Turkey, and probably never saw snow or reindeer in his whole life, let alone flying ones! In truth, there is no relationship between Santa and any living person.

Aaron Urbanski, 31, was charged Saturday with a criminal disturbance in Cleburne, Texas after protesting outside of a church during a a “Breakfast with Santa Event.” His crime was telling kids that Santa Claus was not real, according to The Associated Press. A week before in New Jersey, a school district fired a substitute teacher who also told students that Santa Claus is not real. Apparently, telling the truth about Santa Claus constitutes “blasphemy” in America.  

There are probably other factors in the stories above (there always is), but the principal offenders were certainly not lying or spreading misinformation. Why should there be any penalty for telling children the truth?

Is Santa a religion or an integral part of our religion? Are we willing to give him legal privileges we might provide a deity? The Bible says that “faith is the evidence of things unseen.” Does that mean that faith is the evidence of things every adult knows not to be true?

As Christians, what are we telling our children? What effect does it have on their attitudes toward God and Jesus? Does God become like a Big Santa in the sky? Is the only time we pray when we are asking for “presents?” Do we earn our blessings from God by our good behavior or do we worship a God who sends the rain on both the just and unjust? Why does Santa always bring more toys to wealthy children than poor children? Some argue that Santa represents “the spirit of giving.” If that is so, why are our gifts for ourselves? Why not simply practice giving to others? Do we Christians need a symbol for the “spirit of giving” beyond Jesus, who by the way, blessed the poor and taught self-denial?

In truth, Santa is the god of shopping and materialism. That is why every shopping mall in the land has a Santa. Store owners know that every request made to Santa becomes a sacred duty to be filled out by parents.



William McCall is the pastor of the Canoga Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles.



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