Santa is about the most lovable character out there. And he’s everywhere this time of year.  You could banish his very name from your home, and he’d still creep in uninvited with grandma or some children’s book.

But how can we keep the Christmas season centered on Jesus Christ and his birth when the entire world is conspiring to make Santa the Christmas celebrity? In the mind of a preschooler, they have a lot in common. “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!” Santa, or Jesus? Amiright? Then, there’s the fixation on whether you believe in him or not. And adults seem to care about that a lot. Last but not least, everyone likes to talk about what these two people did on Christmas, but no one I know gets to see it happen.

But Jesus doesn’t need to compete with Santa for the heart of a child. Whatever your approach to the Santa tradition, Santa should never be understood as a rival to Jesus Christ. Santa is jolly and fat and fun and magical. Jesus is our Savior, and the source of all joy. Santa comes around one night a year. Jesus is our King, every day of the year.

Don’t panic if your child talks more about Santa than Jesus. Santa is a legend created to thrill the imagination of a child. But what can we do as parents to set things straight in their little minds?

Kids can’t understand the beauty of the Christmas story unless we put Christ’s incarnation in context of the greater story of redemption. The nativity scene means nothing (A baby being born in a cave? Kinda weird, but why should I care?) unless they know the story leading up to it. The virgin birth means nothing to a small child—they don’t know the facts of life, if you catch my drift.

But they can understand that the nation of Israel was waiting and waiting for Immanuel to come and set them free from the bondage of sin and death, just as we are today. As parents, we have to convey a sense of urgency for the coming of our Lord. When children understand the sin in their own hearts and homes, and the resulting pain and death, they can understand why Christ’s coming was necessary for us. Starting in Genesis, we paint a picture for them of the villain whose head needs to be crushed, and the Savior who does the crushing. And while Santa carries a bag of toys, Immanuel carries a razor-sharp sword. That certainly captures the attention of every kid I know.

Santa may be fun, but we need a hero: Jesus Christ.

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