i have a confession to make.
My family doesn’t really celebrate Santa. My kids know who he is, and I haven’t stopped my kids from “believing in him”; but they get three gifts and a stocking from my husband and myself, and that’s it. I never told them anything about Santa really, everything they know they picked up from movies or shows or YouTube Kids.
We’ve never left him milk or cookies, or did anything to make them believe. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how far to take it, and as a general rule I think it’s critical for parents to create clear boundaries for their kids about what’s real and pretend. I don’t mind if my kids get crazy into their imagination, but I want them to know what’s real when it comes to me.
I’ve heard all the conservative arguments like how believing in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent jolly fellow who sees you when you’re sleeping and can perform magic (sometimes known as Christmas miracles) is detrimental to the faith development of your kids when he turns out to be fake. But this wasn’t what influenced me really, I just didn’t have the framework for making sense of it all, so I mostly did nothing.
Interestingly, my kids love Santa. They probably like Santa more than church. Remember, Santa has never “brought” them a gift or anything of the like. However, culture prevails as culture often does, and my kids love the idea of flying reindeer and a man who gives toys to kids. This Christmas they’ve attempted to see him three times already, like millions of other children have also done.
So, as I write this article, I don’t write it philosophically, I simply write it strategically. If you want families to come to church near Christmas time, consider having Santa.
I’m not saying have Santa on stage during your candlelight Christmas Eve service, but I am saying that a festive pre-event will draw new people to church at a time when it matters. Even advertising that you’re having a character of sorts in the lobby on Christmas Eve can be the difference in whether or not a family shows up.
So, consider these three reasons for why you should think about “sucking it up and celebrating Santa”
1. santa appeals to families:
Families are still one of the greatest ways to get new people to your church, and Christmas characters appeal to families. Last Saturday, the line to see Santa at the mall was 1 hour and 20 minutes if the time went as they predicted when you entered the line. Guess what? We didn’t stay. There are a lot of families that would feel really safe in a small intimate environment like your church to come and see Santa. If I knew of a church that was hosting Santa that weekend, we would have gone. I’m not telling you the exact way to manage this, but there are tons of ways to go about it. You could have him there all day Saturday and Sunday with free photos. You could have a Christmas family event with a small message or just give incentive to come back to a service. You could have him or any character in your Kid’s environment during the Christmas season, and you could even have them give you a tiny present if you bring a friend. The ways to implement an idea are endless, the point is, there’s an excellent chance that having Santa or a character present will increase the likelihood of a family of non-believers (in Christ, not Santa) to attend at all.
2.’tis the season:
Christmas is still the highest season for increased church attendance of the year and ministry leaders have to prepare with that in mind. While I am a firm believer in churches being themselves no matter if there is an influx of guests or not; if you are a pastor, student pastor or kid’s pastor who already leans into a lot of other culturally relevant Christmas ideas, then it’s probably not a huge jump for you to invite Old Saint Nick. For example, if at Easter you annually host an Easter Egg Hunt or think nothing is wrong with having the Easter bunny, then your church could probably consider doing the same at Christmas. There’s no way around it, Christmas in its origins is a pagan holiday. But at Christmas, we have somehow come to celebrate with gifts and fir trees, Santa Clause and Christmas lights and it’s all wrapped up in the celebration that our God finally sent the Messiah that he promised all the way back in the garden. The holiness and the commercialism already touch, so use the ideas that represent the season to point people and families to Christ.
3. help the church and culture positively collide:
As a self-proclaimed non-Santa embracer, I am telling you I think most churches would see more good out of courting the culture than making really clear boundaries that make people feel pushed away. Almost every family is acknowledging or celebrating Santa already, as a church you can have fun with it and use it as an engagement tool to point more people to Christ. I don’t celebrate Santa, and yet I would be more inclined to attend a church that was hosting him in some regard. Why? Because my kids would be excited to go, and it’s a win for my kids to be excited about church. I want my kids to think that their church is awesome and amazing and does really cool things.
If this were a website about parenting or philosophy or even theology, the starting point for this conversation might be different. But this is a resource for ministry leaders looking to grow bigger, better, healthier churches that reach more people and convert them to be fully devoted followers of Christ. If you want to reach people, then you have to go where there are. You have to understand the things they love and show them that there is a place for them in your faith community because God did send his Son, even if it wasn’t exactly on Christmas day.