By Pierce Taylor Hibbs
09.16.2022 | Min Read

The magic of stories and the magic of Christmas is a powerful combination. We have a whole storage bin full of Christmas books that we pull out after Halloween, and the kids are always thrilled to remember them. They know—the season is coming, the season of magic, the season of God’s appearing, the season of Christ.

Of course, the broader culture gets excited too, but for very different reasons. Santa and “giving” (in the most general sense) take center stage. The birth of Christ is looked down on as a pleasant myth, at best.

But what do we do for kids in the middle? I mean, there are a host of kids who are excited about both Jesus’s birth and the mystery of Santa, even if that mystery has faded a bit over the years. One approach would be to ban Santa Clause and any accompanying graphics from the home. Plenty of Christians do this, with varying levels of success.

While I’m not opposed to this in theory, since Christmas is all about Christ, it does concern me for one reason: Culture cannot be deleted. It can only be reinterpreted. What do I mean? Well, you can ban Santa Clause from your home and look down disdainfully at every elf in yellow tights and a green blazer (though, that does seem harsh). But you can’t do anything about what your neighbors do, or what your kids see at school or with friends. And that then puts your kids in an awkward position. They can’t really interact with others. They can’t show how their belief in Christ comes to bear on more popular beliefs in the world. And that’s a problem. Christ doesn’t want to delete the world; he wants to redeem it. How do we position our kids to have those sorts of redemptive conversations?

When Santa Learned the Gospel offers a poetic approach. In words both accessible and biblical, it does two things. (1) It shows the values and assumptions that lie behind the Santa Clause tradition, namely that Christmas is about meritocracy: the good earn gifts; the bad get coal. But how do you measure what is “good” and how can you be “good enough”? The Santa tradition doesn’t have answers to those questions. And most popular traditions don’t. They thrive because they’re easy to implement and understand. But when you dig at them, they fall apart. (2) When Santa Learned the Gospel reinterprets the Santa tradition in light of the good news. It shows that Jesus is applicable to Santa Clause. (Jesus is applicable to everyone!)

As a parent, I appreciated this approach much more because it modeled Christian reinterpretation, not deletion. Rather than putting Santa Clause above the clouds as a pure and mysterious giver, it brought him down to our level, beneath Christ, where we all should be. And it did this in a way that brings joy and awe, not shame or guilt.

Santa compared his message with this new one he had learned.
His message said you got the presents your good deeds had earned.
The message of the gospel offered something so much greater.
Jesus had come to reconcile the world to their Creator.

Making Christmas about Christ isn’t the letdown that children sometimes think it is. It makes Christmas more glorious, more mysterious, more marvelous. It shows how pale Santa Clause magic is compared to the God-is-here magic of Jesus Christ. After all, what’s more exciting and magical than worshiping the God of the stars who came to be with us? Such power and might in such fragility, such openness! It drops my jaw every season, far more than Santa Clause ever could.

I’m happy to say When Santa Learned the Gospel has become a Christmas classic in our home. It reminds the whole family that we’ve been given the truth of Christ so that we can reinterpret the world around us with awe. And it helps us point others to the redemption that gets unwrapped at every millisecond of the year.