With Christmas on the horizon, children across the world are in a heightened state of anticipation over two central characters. Whether Jesus or Santa Claus has the pride of place in their hearts and homes depends on what they have been taught and the traditions they have practised since birth.
Many popular songs have been penned about Santa, memorable examples being "Santa Claus is coming to town," "Oh, Santa" and "Santa Baby." In addition, many films have been made where he is the central character – a traditional favorite being "Miracle on 34thStreet." This film did much to bolster the credibility of Santa because his existence was put on trial, and it was "proven" that he did indeed exist. "How?" you my ask? Simply because thousands of letters had been addressed to him and delivered to the defendant who believed he was Santa by the Post office – an agency of the federal government of the USA. The message was that if the government recognized him as Santa, then he must be Santa.
Seven-year-old Jase Hyndman from Scotland recently wrote and posted a letter to his "father in heaven" (Jase's deceased dad) for which he received the reassuring response from the Royal Mail that his letter had been delivered. This heart-warming account has a spiritual parallel. All God's children enjoy the privilege of making their requests known to God with the assurance that He hears and will grant peace whilst we await the answers (Philippians 4:6-7).
Whereas Santa does himself no favors by only appearing in the popular consciousness at Christmastime, Jesus demonstrated that He is both God and man – not only did he live on this earth but He overcame the power of death by his resurrection and ascension to heaven. We are assured that, "...if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous..." (1 John 2:1, NASB). Whereas Santa decides who's good or bad, Jesus made the way for us all to be good in God's eyes because he took our sins upon himself so we could all enjoy right standing with God if we simply believe.
Because Santa cannot be in many places at the same time, there are multiple versions of him throughout the world. Some versions of him are short, some tall, some chubby, some slim; there are now female versions in this age of greater calls for gender equality. Throughout the history of this legendary figure, from his origins as the fourth century Greek Monk, St. Nicholas, the narrative around him has evolved. From his entourage of elves and reindeers to the figure of Mrs. Klaus, he is also no longer limited to arriving at homes though chimneys, but will show up at shopping malls, parades and other public venues to meet his fanbase of kids face to face. However, Jesus' credentials are stable – he is "the same yesterday, today and forever more."
Santa's reward system of presents is based on whether a child has been "naughty or nice." The reward is usually some trendy toy a child has requested which will engage their interest for a brief time and then be forgotten. Jesus is more interested in eternal rewards. He teaches that, try as we might, we can never be good enough, but he offers us the free gift of his salvation. Santa's standard is nebulous and undefined and involves factors of whether they've been better than last year, treated their siblings well, not shirked their chores and homework. This is a "works to righteousness" model, unlike Jesus' standard which is based on grace – "For by grace you have been saved through faith.. it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).
Jesus condemns materialism. He encourages his children, including adults, to "...not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). He wants us to be content with what we have rather than constantly wanting more of what cannot satisfy the true longings of the human heart for "love," "joy," "peace."
Jesus desires to have a relationship with us. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..." (Revelation 3:20). Santa is only approached through letters because of what he can give; God wants us to crave His presence as the "Almighty Giver," not just to seek Him for what He can give us. He wants us to be His friends. He defined friendship as such: "greater love has no man than this but that he lay down his life for his friend." Jesus has already proven what a faithful friend he is by laying down his life for us to rescue us from the long-term consequences of sin – death and eternal separation from God. The reason He came in the form of a child was to dwell amongst us and to die for us which would fulfill the angelic proclamation – "peace on earth, goodwill towards men." Jesus' sacrificial act would accomplish the ultimate reconciliation between God and man, thereby paving the way for us to experience peace with God and the peace of God. Those who believe and follow Jesus also become agents of peace in the world.
It's a Wrap!
Santa has displaced Christ in many hearts. As "Father Christmas," he is portrayed as a bespectacled, bearded, benevolent figure. Yet he remains a seasonal figure we unwrap for Christmas and put away once the festive season is over. He amuses us and makes us feel good for a brief period thanks to his congenial image, and the fictional narrative which has been spawned around him through music, film and art. What he offers is of short-term, seasonal value. What Christ offers is from now – the "eternal now" – until eternity. Wherever you are, and no matter your age, he is willing to enter your heart, transform your life and become your "forever friend."
—Dr. Carla Cornelius is a modern-day culture warrior who seeks to address the spiritual dangers in our popular culture. She is the author of Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking which highlights various spiritual toxins which have infiltrated the modern mind such as the relentless urge to acquire and achieve, the celebrity bandwagon, the widespread use of sex to seduce and sell products and the mass pre-occupation with the "self."