The Santa Claus myth vs the God of the Bible
Researching the origins of Christian traditions for the celebration of Christmas, I came across this graphic from an antitheistic source. Its purpose is a not-so-subtle attempt to denigrate God.1 The writer has used two images to head his columns—the first is easily recognizable as Santa of course, the second is Michelangelo’s image of God as painted on the vault of the Sistine Chapel (1508–1512). Please read the graphic below:
Is there really any difference?
Of course, there is a difference. So, given the shortage of solid, reasoned responses by Christians to the graphic when it was originally displayed, let’s supply these here for each of the items.
Keeps a list of who’s naughty or nice
Santa: No thinking adult would ever commit to an individual list-keeping Santa—or any other sort. He doesn’t exist. No matter where the original concept of Santa came from (St Nicholas for example),2 it is part of the Christmas Santa legend that has parents warning children they will not receive anything for Christmas if they misbehave—because Santa is ‘making a list and checking it twice’.3 So, do children believe they will receive nothing even if they have misbehaved? Of course not. And naturally, they receive Christmas gifts even if their behaviour (for a whole year) has been less than perfect.
God: He does keep a list of those who will have a home in Heaven with Him—it’s called the Lamb’s Book of Life—Revelation 20:12–15, 3:5; Philippians 4:3. Being ‘nice’ is not the condition of entry—just as being ‘naughty’ does not exclude you. Inclusion in that list is because of God’s great mercy, by His grace through our faith in Jesus and His finished work—His sacrifice on the Cross.4
All-knowing and omnipresent
Santa: What odd attributes to assign to a mythological figure. It’s true, he exists in cultural stories throughout the world, has many different names, some unique alleged powers, and takes many different forms.5 In Western tradition, he has developed into this astounding character who knows about the deeds of billions of children simultaneously. He is supposedly capable of travelling all over the globe and down billions of chimneys within one night, so although ‘all-powerful’ is not mentioned as a Santa characteristic in the graphic, this would make him a remarkably powerful individual indeed. In any case, these claims are rarely formulated in such extravagant terms. All of this is an attempt to belittle God and denigrate attributes that are His alone.
God: Unlike Santa, God has many different names that relate to His overall character and attributes, and these remain constant and are in no way culturally related. There are too many to list here, but for the purpose of this discussion we will elaborate on the three attributes already loosely alluded to under this heading—Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent. God alone has a rightful claim to these three attributes:
Omniscient: A big word that simply means there is nothing God does not know. Nothing! Scary thought? Indeed it is. Not only does God know if you have been ‘naughty’, but he also knows when you are going to be naughty again. And you are only one of how many billion people on this planet today? And yes, this applies to each and every person. Jeremiah the prophet recognized this truth: “ … great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of men, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 32:19). Santa—strike one!
Omnipresent: Another big word that simply means God is everywhere—really everywhere! King David leaves us in no doubt about that: “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” This is only a small part of Psalm 139 and the whole Psalm is worth reading. It covers God’s Omnipresence beautifully. Santa—strike two!
Omnipotent: Yes, it is as well this word does not appear in the graphic and is not therefore attributed to Santa. Listen to Isaiah’s record of God’s own claim of His divine strength and power using the starry heavens as just one example of His creative work: “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them by name, by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power not one is missing.” Isaiah 40:25–26. And Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Santa—strike three—and out!
Long white beard
Santa: Yes, in the popular image he mostly has one—and songs tell us so, too.6 It was the Coca-Cola company which, though not responsible for every detail, popularized the rotund, jolly, bewhiskered, Santa, dressed in red with white fur and collar and cuffs, way back in 1931.7 For many decades thereafter, it proved a popular Christmas-time advertisement.
God: “God is spirit”, the Bible says (John 4:24), so it would seem that we could not see Him anyway—unless He chose to manifest in some form. The Bible also says that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18), though plenty of artists have tried to capture their version of His likeness. Scholars generally think this refers to God the Father, and that the handful of Old Testament appearances of God were actually the pre-incarnate Christ, God the Son. But these mention no facial hair.
Of course, when people in Jesus’ day looked on Him, they were in fact seeing God in human form. Not surprisingly for a Jewish man of that time, one of the prophecies of Him mentions a beard (Isaiah 50:6). But since He was ”about 30” (Luke 3:23), it was not likely white.
Taught to children by parents
Santa: The legend of Santa Claus is taught to children by most parents and society at large, and commercial outlets would never want it to fade away.8 Shopping for Christmas gifts can be stressful, expensive, and time-consuming; but still the custom persists, with many people struggling with Christmas debt for months thereafter. Peer pressure among children and incessant advertising creates demand for increasingly expensive gifts. From just one such shopping trip, children could be forgiven for assuming that Christmas is reindeers and jolly fat men and selfish pursuits, rather than a time for reflection and thanksgiving for the wonderful gift of the Christ Child. Small wonder that internet search terms such as ‘Christmas family tension’ bring up articles with titles like, ‘Why families fight at Christmas’.
God: For over 2,000 years now, millions of parents and significant adults have been teaching their children about the birth, life and death of Jesus and His role as the Son of God, and the Saviour from sin for those who will believe. And before that, Jewish parents were teaching their children of the promise of the Jewish Messiah coming to rescue Israel.
This would be the ‘seed (offspring) of the woman’, promised straight after Adam and Eve’s Fall (Genesis 3:15). This was probably not long after the creation of the world (see Timing of the Fall), and it is likely that these two were themselves the first to teach their children about that promise, according to the light they had. And as progressively more was revealed by God’s prophets about the coming Messiah, this practice would have continued and been increasingly fleshed out within God’s chosen nation, Israel.
There can be no tradition older than that. This is a record the ‘Santa myth’ cannot hope to emulate; the earliest prototype of Santa Claus as we know him today probably appeared in the 4th Century AD.2
Generally believed in by children
Santa: What choice does a child have? Parents and significant adults in their life, shopping malls, songs, books, and a plethora of wonderful sights, sounds and smells, assail their small persons every December. Gifts that amazingly appear under a laden tree each Christmas Day are supposedly delivered by a jolly old man dressed in red who landed on the roof in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeers. The myth is further promoted by the once-yearly visit to the Santa throne where the glorified one sits surrounded by his elfin helpers—and another photo is added to affirm the yearly expedition and the ‘reality’ of Santa. This latter event usually ceases when the child states, “No more. I’m too old now,” and parents realise their baby is growing up and the innocence of childhood no longer applies. In my experience, it is usually the child who realizes that Santa is not real, and not something a parent willingly discloses. It’s a lie many parents never want to see end—Christian or otherwise, sadly.
God: Every young child, with the only exception being the Christ Child, believes themselves to be at the very centre of their universe. It’s all about them; their wants, their needs, their demands, their happiness. A wise parent begins teaching away from that point of view as soon as the child is old enough to understand. Usually, the first substantial lesson is that of sharing. There are other people in that little ‘sacred universe’ who do not see them as special, but rather as competition. Sometimes things have to be shared. Not sharing brings admonition; sharing nicely brings praise.
And the wise and clever parent also starts explaining the existence of the One who really is at the centre of our universe; the One who not only created it but the One who sustains it and therefore sustains them. Ah, little children! They come to us as a blank page on which we can write the wonders of the universe. It’s such a pleasant, simple task. No mythological nonsense that has no basis in reality, but the solid, supportable fact that God exists, He made the world and everything in it, and He made them. How special they see themselves when they realize that God had them in mind, even before they were born, as David says to God in Psalm 139:13: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” What child, with that thought firmly planted in their mind from a young age, would need to grow up searching for self-assurance?
Not believed in by intelligent adults
Santa: Of course mature adults (intelligent or otherwise) do not believe in this myth. Past their first decade, most children don’t either.
God: This claim is so obviously ridiculous as to be almost unworthy of refutation. The list of highly qualified believing scholars, scientists and thinkers over the centuries is overwhelming. Just a few of the most famous believing scientists are listed here.9 In spite of the best efforts of modern-day evolution-promoting agents for antitheism, like Richard Dawkins, there are today literally millions of intelligent, scholarly and well-adjusted adults who hold to a vibrant and unshakable faith in God.
What about those who do not believe, does God call them intelligent? Through the Psalmist David He states: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good” (Psalm 53:1) Ouch!
Sing songs about
Santa: There are really not that many.10
God: There is almost no limit to the number of songs/hymns about God. From the earliest records of a song of praise in the Bible (Exodus 15) to our own century, composers have never tired of writing hymns, arias, oratorios, etc., praising their Creator/Saviour God. Examples are prolific throughout history.11 Who amongst us, for example, could fail to be moved by George Frideric Handel and his magnificent Messiah? Yes, we have Santa ‘songs’ but no great composer has ever misused his God-given gift to glorify that man-made idol. And there is no reason Christian song-writing will ever cease, even if Christian worship comes under greater duress.
Demands sacrifices, tithes or cookies
Santa: There certainly are traditions for leaving out carrots for Santa’s reindeer, and cookies and milk for the jolly old man.12 In fact, any gift (or none at all) is acceptable. But tithes? Sacrifices? This can only be a snide way of raising the subject of sacrifices, tithes and offerings to God, so let’s look at that.
God: The Old Testament is full of examples of tithes being God’s due for His faithfulness to His people (see Malachi 3:8–12). These tithes were largely used to support the Tribe of Levi who had religious responsibilities that meant earning a living was impossible and, yes, the Levites also had to tithe the tithe (Numbers 18:21, 26). Offerings were gifts over and above the required tithe. Jesus, in the New Testament, had much to say about tithes too. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23–24). Now the emphasis has shifted from a mere external act to one that also involves the state of the heart.
Just as certainly, in the Old Testament God also ordained sacrifices. But not just any old sacrifice would do. Remember the story of Cain and Abel? (Genesis 4:1–7). Abel brought to God an unblemished firstborn lamb from his flock as a sacrifice. Cain brought fruit. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted but Cain’s was not. Why? When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God had to kill unblemished animals to provide clothing to cover their external nakedness (Genesis 3:21). The inner damage sin caused would have to be redeemed by another unblemished, sacrificial lamb, the Lamb of God (John 1:29)—the supreme sacrifice to pay the penalty for all sin for all time. And in the New Testament, Jesus Himself says, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7); “And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33). The writer to the Hebrew Christians further makes the point: “But in these sacrifices [the Jewish Temple sacrifices as commanded in the Law of Moses13] there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3–4).
Has servants or helpers
Santa: Well, that’s what the various legends say, and elves feature predominantly. They are supposed to spend the entire year making gifts for Santa to distribute.14
God: Before Creation Week, God did not have any ‘helpers’ as such. The angels or heavenly host were probably created on Day 1.15 The Scriptures are full of illustrations where God deployed either angelic beings (Luke 1:26–38) or human advocates (12 Samuel 12:1–9). This is not something to be mocked!
Never returns calls
Santa: Indeed, he never does, though sometimes a ‘stand-in’ speaks on his behalf on radio programs and the like, and certainly the in-store Santas have a way of conveying to the littlies on their knee that their plea has been heard and will be answered.
God: Answers to prayer (as ‘calling God’ could be defined) are certainly individual and usually very subjective. But, I doubt you would find a practising, believing Christian who could not claim to have had a definite answer to at least one prayer (their own salvation being one), and quite often many more; Sometimes ‘Yes’, sometimes ‘No’, sometimes ‘Wait a while—I have something better’. But answers do come. God is not a rabbit’s foot to be rubbed to see the fulfilment of every whim or fancy. Many of the web respondents to the original Santa vs God list made quite an issue of this point; that Santa always brought them gifts (and usually what was asked for), while God never did. Really? I wonder why. Before we can even begin to see God as a loving Father, He must first become, by grace, through faith, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”16 When we become His children, we are no longer “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10); there is no third category. Before that transition from one to the other takes place, we can hardly expect to see His promise fulfilled, that no good thing will be withheld from us (Matthew 7: 7–11). And after it happens, it is likely that our very understanding of what is ‘good’ will take on a totally new perspective (Matthew 7:7–11).
Said to reward virtue and punish evil
Santa: A non-existent Santa can neither reward nor punish.
God: This same misunderstanding of the character of God was presented to God, in His Heaven, by Satan, as recorded in the book of Job. This great servant of God had prospered in every way and, superficially, it could be assumed that this was because Job was a loyal and obedient servant. God then allows Satan to test Job. After many trials, Job’s four ‘friends’ doggedly attempt to have him see that his misfortunes are God’s punishment for his sinfulness. Job holds steadfast to his faith though, and is privy to a magnificent discourse from God Himself (Job 38–41). Job’s fortunes were restored by God but, even if they had not been, Job has already declared his position: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21). Job is, of course, our eternal example of how we should maintain our faith in God in the face of fortune and misfortune alike.
Makes sense in any way
Santa: Well, one can agree with the ‘test score’ (fail) here, at least.
God: God makes so much sense of just about everything that the ‘X’ in the Santa vs God diagram is laughable. God, through His inspired Word, makes sense of our material universe, of our humanity, of our past history, our present and our future. The world’s leading expert on sickle-cell anemia, Dr Felix Konotey-Ahulu, said:
Nothing makes sense of life as I know it—wars, rumours of wars, strife (domestic and international), wickedness, injustice, sin and its consequences, pain and suffering, disease (hereditary and acquired)—until I see it through the history of perfect Creation, the Fall and its terrible consequences, the promise of God not only to undo the damage Satan has wrought, but also to restore man’s communion with Himself through His Son who would become Incarnate (God becoming Man).
The Son, unlike Adam and Eve, would perfectly obey God’s laws. He would satisfy the full justice of God (which Adam and Eve could not do), and pay the eternal punishment for sin, so that those offspring of rebellious Adam who believe on Him would not perish, but have eternal life.
And He proved all this by His glorious Resurrection. Frankly, if I did not believe all this, I would find it impossible to get a satisfactory explanation for life after death.
See the vast numbers of articles just on creation.com.
Has evidence for existence
Santa: There is a small city in Alaska called ‘North Pole’, where the world’s largest fibreglass Santa stands in front of Santa Claus House. Each year, hundreds of thousands of letters with ‘Santa’s’ special ZIP code are delivered to the post office there.17 Far from being evidence for Santa’s existence, this is humans capitalizing on a now-modern myth. The ‘X’ is appropriate here, too.
God: Did Jesus Christ walk and talk and live and die on planet Earth? Indeed; this is a historical fact accepted by nearly all historians,18 and was prophesied in the Old Testament.19 The Gospels bear witness to many events in His life. Does that give evidence for God’s existence? In Jesus’ words it certainly does: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
Will the myth of Santa Claus last? We can’t know, but it is fairly certain to keep developing and changing as our societies continue their movement away from a beginning where “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and look more and more for some way to show how things came into being by themselves. They imagine that to be more ‘scientific’. As ministries like this one continually seek to affirm—science, reason, and the Word of God overwhelmingly demonstrate otherwise.
References and notes
- Florien, D., theformerfundie.wordpress.com, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- This article seems to hold a balanced view of Saint Nicholas: Olsen, T., The Real Saint Nicholas, christianitytoday.com, August 2008, accessed 9 May 2017. Return to text.
- From the 1934 hit song ‘Santa Claus is coming (sometimes ‘comin’) to Town’, that tells children Santa is monitoring their behaviour, so they should be good, azlyrics.com, accessed 22 May 2017. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., creation.com/curse-and-catastrophe, Creation 16(2):42–44, March 1994, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- To see just how many Christmas traditions there are see santas.net/aroundtheworld.htm, accessed 21 May 2017. Return to text.
- Must be Santa, worldofchristmas.net, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- 5 things you never knew about Santa Claus and Coca-Cola, coca-colacompany.com, January 2012, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- Christmas and holiday season, wikipedia.org, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- Creation scientists and other specialists of interest creation.com/creation-scientists. Return to text.
- See worldofchristmas.net, for a representative sample, accessed 10 May, 2017. Return to text.
- For a full overview of the great composers and their Christian faith, see Schmidt, A., How Christianity changed the world, Zondervan, pp. 314–344, 2004. Return to text.
- Savedge, J., What do kids around the world leave for Santa? mnn.com, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- Offerings and Sacrifices, biblestudytools.com, accessed 21 May 2017. Return to text.
- All About Santa's Elves, kidzworld.com, accessed 10 May 2017. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., From the beginning of the creation: Does Genesis have a ‘gap’?, Creation 19(2):35–38, accessed 10 May 2017; creation.com/gap. Return to text.
- See Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4. Return to text.
- Szalay, J., The North Pole: Location, weather, exploration … and Santa, livescience.com, accessed 11 May 2017. Return to text.
- See Christianity for Skeptics (above right). Return to text.
- For a full discussion of OT prophecies and NT fulfilments see Fruchtenbaum, A., Ha-Mashiach: The Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, Ariel Ministries, 2nd Ed., 2004 (above right) Return to text.