St. Nicholas, who is one of my favorite saints, is well known for his charitable witness to the Gospel. His legendary reputation, along with his feast days, have carried his spiritual presence down through the centuries to our present day.

I'm fully knowledgeable of the origin and evolution of Santa Claus. In the last 100 years or so the "Santa Claus" recognized on the Coca Cola can has been heavily commercialized. The majority of children in America spend the first years of their lives believing that he is as real as the UPS man.

From what I've noticed, the common characteristics of "Santa" are:

  1. Lives in the North Pole
  2. Employs elf labor
  3. Travels in a sleigh pulled by 8 magically propelled flying reindeer
  4. Successfully delivers billions of toys to billions of children in an 8 hr period
  5. Enters into houses via chimney
  6. Eats cookies

None of these characteristics are true realities.

I assume that its a universally accepted Christian truth that anything purported to be true but is not is a lie.

I also assume that its a universally accepted Christian truth that anyone who knowingly and willing purports a lie is committing a sin.

Is causing or allowing children to systematically/wholeheartedly buy into the commercialized element of Santa Claus within the context of the birth of Christ a sin? Even if its a little "white" lie, is it a sin?

What I mean by "causing" or "allowing" are things like taking children to "mall Santa" and confessing their desires.

I know that by this point I might be sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge, but I'm approaching this from an absolutely moral angle that is free from nostalgia.

Is it a lie or not?

Could it be argued that by conditioning a child's intellect into believing in a false invisible person - this could later undermine the child's faith in a real invisible person like Jesus Christ (or St. Nicholas).

P. S. Christmas is my favorite time of the year and I can't wait until Midnight Mass!

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    It also undermines the parent's credibility early on, since the children will discover the fraud when they are still very young. – user Aug 19 '13 at 22:45
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    Didn't bother my daughter too much, she just found out and thought it was funny. She was proud of herself for figuring it out all by herself and knows we'll be upset if she tells her brothers. (Rise of the Guardians did not help) – Peter Turner Aug 20 '13 at 2:06
  • It didn't bother me or my sister too terribly much either. Thankfully my parents and grandparents did a wonderful job of keeping it centered around Christ. I think we will heavily emphasize the story of St. Nicholas. – user5286 Aug 20 '13 at 2:58

On the authority of the Catholic and Orthodox Church, Santa Claus is as real as Abraham Lincoln or George Washington.

And just because people exaggerate his exploits doesn't make him less real. If Santa Claus isn't the impetus behind putting presents under the tree then who is? The three kings, some friendly Christmas gnomes, the Child Jesus Himself?

There is a third party at work on Christmas Eve and it would be blasphemy (which is worse than murder or lying) to deny his existence.

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    "Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void." - G. K. Chesterton – user5286 Aug 20 '13 at 14:15

This is not the entire answer, however, I'd like to give you a perspective that may inform the answer. I grew up in a Christian home, where Santa Clause was forbidden, whereas my wife grew up in a Christian home where Santa Clause was a celebrated and beloved part of the holiday.

When I read you question, I could almost here the voice of my mother speaking it. All of the reasons you gave were the reasons that they gave me for not believing. Beyond that (and implicit in your question I think), they also thought that if you were disillusioned of the fantasy of S.C. then you would be more easily disillusioned of your belief in God. Perhaps that was bit of what they experienced growing up, though their parents were not particularly religious.

My experience as a child was One of increasing apprehension and extreme burden carrying the HUGE weight of a terrible secret that I could not let any of my friends in on. I really cannot express the horror I felt, after carrying that burden for so long when inevitably my peers began to find out and started 'letting the cat out of the bag' to the other kids. I have vivid recollections to this day of Christmases in the 2nd and 3rd grade when this was happening.

It may be that not every kid is going to react that way, and I have no doubt it totally depends on the personality of individual kids. However, in my case, I believe it lead to a kind of resentment of parents having to carry around the burden of (what I began to think of, at the time, very young) as my parent's increasingly unfounded faith. When other kids got excited about Halloween candy and costume, I had to look forward to was a night with the lights outs, hearing the doorbell ring and hiding, whilst my mom wold sneak a peek out the window and bad mouthing the parents of any kids she happened to recognize. I spent Christmas hoping my parents would not catch me watching the S.C. history channel special when it aired on the TV, and tip toeing around the question, 'what is S.C. bringing you for Christmas?'. The answer by the way, was 'nothing, I don't believe in S.C.' when an adult ask me in front of my parents, to the considerable shock of the asker, the pride of my parents and the embarrassment of myself. And if another kid ask me at school, the answer was the same as any normal kid. Notice how the burden of my parents having to tell a lie, shifted to me (the child) having to lie? I doubt my parents wanted to field the calls from an upset teacher (or a mad parent) any more than I wanted to reveal the terrible secret.

Long story short, I realized in my mid teens that I did not believe in God, and only came to faith much later. How much did this aspect in my upbringing influence this sad part of my life? I couldn't say, probably not heavily, but certainly was part the entire package of life experiences that lead me down the wrong path.

My wife grew up in believing in S.C. until one day she figured it out, but kept up pretenses for the sake of her parents and younger brother. She never wavered in her faith, and is a extremely devoted Christian to this day.

So all of that doesn't really answer your question. What should the Christian response be here? Certainly, the will of God overrides whatever embarrassment or discomfort that you, or your kids might feel because of it.

Romans 12:2 - NIV Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I think most Christian ethicists would agree that, as you said, telling some something that is not the truth, for what ever reason, is still a lie, and therefor a sin. I believe that Augustine says that telling an untruth, even if you believe it to be the truth, is still a sin.

So I am genuinely conflicted. I have read Mark Driscoll's article here (http://marshill.com/2010/12/13/what-we-tell-our-kids-about-santa-pastor-mark-for-the-washington-post) where he managed to find some middle ground. It is worth a read for sure. He suggest redeeming SC, telling the child he is real, in a way, through the person of St. Nick, and downplaying the commercialism that is so endemic around the celebration of the birth of Christ. At the same time it allows the child to participate in Santa as part of Christmas celebration, but the parent is being truthful at the same time.

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    My wife and I have discussed this to some length to prepare for what to say in front of our nieces and nephews. We have decided to take the "happy medium" path just like Mark Driscoll describes. We both grew up celebrating Christmas just like "A Christmas Story" with cookies, stockings and all. I had such an enchanted experience every year, so much so that it is now my favorite holiday. I think this question comes from a gradual submersion into philosophy with the help of G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Peter Kreeft who all highly stress that Truth trumps everything. – user5286 Aug 20 '13 at 2:47
  • Of course we want our children to have the best experience possible as any loving parent should, but not at the cost of conforming to the world. Thank you for your post, as well as the link to Mark Driscoll's testimony. Its a great read. – user5286 Aug 20 '13 at 2:53