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Santa Claus and Christianity

14th December 2005, sjh

 

The Christmas festival is a mixture of many traditions and ideas. In recent times the principal figurehead has been Santa Claus, portrayed as a likeable character who has the capability and willingness to give gifts. Parents are encouraged to deceive their children into believing that Santa Claus really exists, but in doing so, are they teaching a false god to their children?

Christians generally consider Christmas to be a Christian festival, with a central role of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. We may wonder then about the role of Santa Claus in this celebration and whether it should be considered good or bad from a Christian perspective.

History

Santa, of course, does not appear in the Bible at all, and was totally unknown at the time of Christ and the early Christian church. The origins of Santa Claus can be traced to collected traditions over the years. The most noble of those is possibly that of Saint Nicolas. Legends exist of this man living in the 4th century and often being generous giving gifts to children.

Another origin is in the ancient Norse god Odin. He was a god of warfare and was portrayed as a bearded old man who rode on a horse. Germanic legends taught that each year at the Yule festival (winter solstice time) children should put out their boots with food in them for Odin's horse. In return Odin would leave gifts for the children. With the coming of the church to the Netherlands, the myth of God Odin was altered to instead use the personality of Saint Nicolas as part of the evolution of the festival.

With the arrival of the Dutch in the United States in the 19th century, the festival was taken there where it gradually grew to became the current version of Santa Claus. The widespread popularisation of the modern image appears to have come about from Coca-Cola advertisements in the 1930s.

Nature of the Myth

The specific history of the festival serves little purpose except to show that it isn't a Christian origin. The real question is whether or not it is good to propagate this myth at Christmas. These are some characteristics of Santa Claus. He:

These are all attributes that are shared with the Christian view of God. One might ask then, is a belief in Santa Claus equivalent to a belief in a god? To a child's eyes, it must be very similar.

The Effect

One may ask whether it matters about teaching a myth about another God to small children. One could argue that it prepares them to understand the nature of the true God. Alternatively, it may be considered that once the myth is shattered in later years it will become a source of distrust.

One can't help but think of the many references in the Bible to the service to other gods.

Joshua 24:20: If you forsake Yahweh, and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you evil, and consume you, after that he has done you good. WEB

It may seem pleasant to deceive children with myths about Santa Claus, but one has to ask whether it is really worth the price.

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