Legalism, Santa Clause, And Children

The scene is a familiar one. A lone mother works her way through the grocery store with her little one(s) in tow. All of a sudden one of the little children sees something that he/she wants and begins to ask for it. The mother answers back with the gentle negative “not this week.” And it seems that no matter how much discipline is administered with as much wisdom as can be at home, the child knows that at the grocery store they are far from whatever form of correction the parents have devised – and so they throw a fit. And while onlookers begin to shake their heads at the helpless parent and unruly child the mother desperately searches for something to pacify her child without giving in to their demands (which would only garner even more contempt from the gallery of witnesses). And then it dawns upon the mother that during this time of year she has been given the ultimate trump card: Santa Clause. And so she bends down and whispers in her child’s ear “you had better be good or Santa won’t come to our house to give you your presents.” And lo and behold the tears dry up and the wailing is silenced and the silent observers nod their heads in approval.

It is Christmas, the most legalistic time of the year.

It has become more clear than ever to me that in Santa Clause our society has constructed a god of consumerism. And for children, this god is legalistic to the core. That he seems to be a god seems indisputable to me. He lives far away, flies in the sky, loves everyone, nobody sees him, he seems to know everything you do, and at least during one time of year he is omnipresent, he gives good gifts once a year, and if you want something in particular you just need to pray (or write him a letter). But while he seems like a pretty good guy this Santa only gives gifts to the good kids who are on his list. And he checks that list twice because he wouldn’t want to make the mistake of giving a good gift to a bad kid now would he?

I think the reason that I am not a big fan of Santa is because he is the embodiment of everything that is false about God. Santa only gives good gifts to those on his “nice” list. God imputes righteousness to bad people who have trusted in the saving death and resurrection work of Jesus. Santa holds his “list” over children’s heads all year long so that they behave. God tirelessly holds grace out to people for them to turn to Jesus in faith. Santa is a legalist. God is not.

This Christmas let’s try not to confuse the two. Our children need to God of grace. And so do we.


One comment

  1. It is amazing to me that people who would typically be repulsed by a legalistic religion embrace a legalistic Santa so cheerfully. Good point you’ve brought out here.

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