Jesus and Santa Claus

Jesus and Santa Claus

My last column for the Dutch newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad (”Reformed Daily”) is now posted online, at I have been writing monthly columns for their weekend English-language page for a year and a half, but I decided it was time to take on something new. I have limited time for these regular journalistic assignments, and I have agreed to be a panelist for a new webpage “On Faith,” sponsored by Newsweek and the Washington Post. For this endeavor, a group of us–representing various religious traditions–are sent a question every Monday, and if we choose to answer it (we must do at least one a month), we send our commentary in on Tuesday and it is posted on Wednesday.

I did not answer the question posted December 4, on how to explain one’s celebration of religious holidays to children in a interfaith marriage. But I did enjoy some of the commentaries that others posted. My favorite is Susan Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, at She tells a wonderful Christmas story, that I will simply repeat here with the counsel that it is worth some Advent reflection. Many years ago she was preaching a children’s sermon, and she asked the kids what the difference is between Jesus and Santa Claus. Her son, Billy, four years old at the time, piped up with an answer: “Jesus will forgive you, but Santa Claus never will!”


  1. Dr. Mouw,

    A similar story: Two years ago I attended a church not far from Pasadena in the weeks before Christmas. It was going fine till about midway through the service. Then, decked out in tinsel halos, about twenty little cherubs from the church’s community pre-school came up front to “sing” (I use the term loosely) ten minutes of secular holiday favorites. Think Jingle Bell-flavored selections rather than the Away in a Manger sort. Meanwhile their “once-a-year” parents stood on the seats, waving frantically to get their attention, and lined up behind one another in the center aisle like paparazzi at a Hollywood premiere, maneuvering digital cameras around to find best angle to capture the precious memories.

    When the pastor asked during the following children’s sermon “who is the most important person at Christmas-time?” an entirely unself-conscious youngster could hardly be faulted for answering “Me!”

    Looking forward to hearing from you here.

    Ron Rienstra
    Grand Rapids, MI

    Comment by Ron Rienstra — December 20, 2006 @ 8:52 am

  2. I’m excited to see you’ve entered the blogging world! I’ve heard another version of this contrast in reference to the Christmas “hymn”–Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Santa says, “You’d better watch out; you’d better not cry.” Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t work that way.

    Pointing out the contrast between Jesus and Santa raises another issue for my wife and I. What do we tell our daughter when she discovers her “faith” in Santa was based on myth? How do we let her play the game of believing in Santa without implying that believing in Jesus is just another game?

    Comment by Mark Goodyear — December 20, 2006 @ 3:12 pm