Father Christmas - should we fib to our kids? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Derek Peakman   
Saturday, 08 December 2012 20:21

Father Christmas – a fun and harmless tale to share with young children? Or an elaborate lie that once unravelled, leads children to assume that adults might not be telling the truth about Jesus either? Childrenswork co-editor Sam Donoghue talks Santa.

I noticed a discussion on a Facebook group the other day about whether Christians should tell children that Father Christmas doesn’t exist (he doesn’t. I’m sorry you found out this way) because they were concerned that by promoting a made up person we might be undermining the reality of Jesus. I actually got as far as typing a response which I then deleted and thought better of. But… exclusively for Childrenswork magazine, I can reveal the deleted comment.

‘If children give up on Jesus because they think he was made up like Santa, it is caused by what you told them about Jesus, not what you told them about Santa.’

Back when I was a schools worker I ran series of after-school clubs in primary schools around the town I worked in. They were evangelistic and we would on occasion provide opportunities for children to make a commitment. It was always low pressure and no hype, and I always took heart from the fact that we never had every child respond in a group. If that had happened, I would have worried that we were leading too strongly!

On an occasion I will never forget, one child responded with the following phrase to the chance to become a follower of Jesus:

‘I don’t believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Father Christmas.’

He’d obviously found the session profoundly moving and pretty life changing! On one level, I was chuffed that he felt he could say it, and didn’t feel pressured to say what he thought we wanted him to say. But let’s just unpack it a bit; a ten year old boy who had done a bit of mental filing and decided that Jesus, Santa and probably the tooth fairy belonged in the same folder marked ‘mythical beings’, as easily found as the unicorn’s horn.

What we are seeing here is a symptom of the changes in the way a child thinks, that occurs around this age. James Fowler says in his book Stages of Faith that at this age, children are processing the stories that they have grown up with and are deciding which ones are true and worth retaining, and which ones are made up. In Fowler’s research, the ’11 year old atheist’ wasn’t that uncommon, especially in faith communities. So why is it that children are prone to rejecting the story of Jesus at this time? Put simply, because the story they have been told is made up.

Some children have been taught about a God who solves all their problems, stops bad things happening, answers all their prayers and arrives at the last minute to save the day if the situation gets really hopeless. They have been sold a gospel where God wants us to stop doing naughty things, and although he always loves us, he can’t be our friend if we are naughty (that’s not very loving, is it?). Consequently, as they develop in the ability to reflect on God in the light of their experience, they find that he hasn’t solved all their problems, bad things have happened and they have felt alone when they needed God most. So no wonder they gave up on him.

Jesus doesn’t sit on the rejects bench next to Santa because we were so convincing about Mr Claus; he sits there because we were so woolly about Jesus. So what can we do to express a faith that survives this test? Here’s a couple of ideas...

1. Be authentic. Being a Christian is not a matter of everything being lovely all the time. We should resist the urge to try and ‘protect children’ from this. Life is messy and things go wrong and we learn that Jesus is there with us through all of this – not just the good bits. Indeed, for me, an authentic Christianity is not about an absence of mess, but a God who works in and through our mess. So don’t be afraid to tell stories, either Bible stories or stories from you own life where things go wrong, or when you prayed and nothing happened.

2. Don’t spin the Bible. The Bible doesn’t need us to ‘spin it’ so that children only see the highlights package. The stories of the Bible are supposed to be a resource to help and support us through good times and bad. If we only give children the good bits the Bible fails them when they need it most, as there is no resource for when times are tough. They need to know that Noah got drunk, Thomas doubted, David’s best friend died and while there was a dramatic rescue for Peter in prison, the story is only a few chapters from Stephen who was stoned to death and there was no rescue. The Bible is full of light and dark, and in the lives of children are too; so we need to give them stories that help them find God in all their lives and not just the good bits.

So don’t worry about Father Christmas hurting Jesus. Jesus is much bigger than that.Now let’s make sure we tell that to our children.

Article from children's work.co.uk