When you are a Christian and Christmas time rolls around (or, you know, September, when all the stores start putting out their Christmas displays) the question inevitably arises among friends: Do you do Santa Claus?

Andy and I came from different traditions on this topic. My family did not do Santa Claus. I’ve known people to look at me in pity when I tell them this, but I have never felt that I missed out in any way. My parents never said “Santa is not real.” It was just that Christ’s birth was what was emphasized in our home. We were certainly aware of Santa and had friends that believed in him but we knew it was really just for fun and we certainly never ruined their fun or felt the need to spoil things for them.

I always assumed that I would not do the “Santa” thing with my kids because that’s how I had grown up. Then I married Andy. “Not do Santa?” he asked when the topic came up. He looked like I had kicked his puppy. Andy had also grown up in a family that emphasized the real reason for Christmas, but they had found a way to incorporate a little Santa fun into the mix. Each year there was one unwrapped gift under the tree. That was the gift from Santa (because he is so busy that he obviously does not have time to wrap all those presents!).  That was the first piece in the “Maybe we’ll do a little Santa” puzzle.

The second piece came in the form of a letter I had been given when debating the Santa issue shortly after Trinity was born. Some friends of ours used this letter with their girls (now grown) when they reached the age where they were figuring out that whole “Santa’s not real” thing. Actually, it was a letter their grandfather had used to tell  their father about Santa when he was little. Motivated by my conversation with Andy, I pulled out the letter and re-read it as the key to tying the two Christmas worldviews together and ultimately making both of them about God’s truth. After getting permission from Greg to print their family treasure, I give you the letter we will one day give to our girls. (I wish I could cut and paste it the way it came to me with the old typewriter set but that would require computer skills that I don’t have). I took out one short section regarding some kids getting more than others but this is most of it:

Dear Trinity, 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the wise men brought gifts to show how much they loved him. Then, 33 years later Jesus gave his life to prove his love for us. Since then, at Christmas each year, Christian people all over the world exchange gifts and also give to the poor to prove their love for each other and for their fellow man.

Many years ago in Germany, lived a man called Nicholas Klaus. He had few relatives to give to but he felt sorry for the poor people who had very little to give or get at Christmas – so each year he would make up baskets of toys and sweets and on Christmas Eve would go around the town leaving the surprise gifts for all the poor people to find on Christmas morning. Because he was such a good man, the people called him a saint. He became known first as Saint Klaus and later as “Santa Claus.”

The memory of Jesus started the custom of giving, but the memory of Santa Claus is the reason for giving in secret. Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” so to give in secret, knowing that we cannot be thanked is a wonderful experience. Santa Claus could not be thanked because the poor people he gave to didn’t know that it was he who gave to them.

Each year at Christmas, millions of parents all over the world suddenly become Santa Clauses. They give all of the little children all that they can…

As we grow older and learn the true story of Santa Claus, we keep the secret, and those of us who love Jesus, enjoy even more this new experience of giving in secret, so that we can not be thanked.

Now that you are a big girl, Trinity, you can understand the importance of never telling anyone that there is no Santa Claus. You see, there really is not just one, but millions and millions of Santas all over the world. This year you will join the army of new Santas and will help to “sneak” the presents into the stockings. You will know a new joy in giving and you will be a little more grown up.

If anyone tells you there is no Santa Claus, say “Yes there is!” and if they ask you if you have seen this Santa, tell them “Yes, many times!” And then to be real nice say “I know the whole story from Christ to Santa Claus.”

Jesus told his disciple Thomas, “You believe in me because you see me, but more blessed are they who do not see but still believe.” so, Trinity, don’t tell smaller children this story – let them keep on believing, even though they cannot see.

Your Loving Santa,

This letter does such a beautiful job of explaining the history, God’s truth, the reason behind the tradition of giving gifts, and making sure they know not to spoil other people’s fun. (I don’t care what your family’s choice is regarding Santa Claus, it’s just obnoxious for kids to run around taking joy in ruining things for small children.) SO…our children get one gift from Santa and the rest, they know, are from mommy and daddy or grandma’s and grandpa’s etc.

One day about a month ago Trinity announced that she wanted to write a letter to Santa. “I need to tell him what I want for Christmas. I get whatever I want from Santa” she declared. We had a talk (again) about how presents are not what Christmas is really about and I started to wonder if we were doing the right thing in deciding to include Santa in Christmas at all. Of course, for children, presents are exciting and fun and greatly looked forward to! But I never want that to be the focus of their thoughts on Christmas.

So can you do both Santa and Jesus?  My fears were relieved when about a week later we were walking through Costco and Trinity stopped and pointed at something behind me and said “LOOK, mommy! They have the REAL Christmas here!” I turned around to see that she was pointing to a Nativity Scene.