Tuesdays with Sarah… To Santa or Not to Santa?

Me and Santa, 1977

Me and Santa, 1977

We’ve always been a slightly odd family. There are 3 main reasons for our oddness. First, we just now let our oldest daughter get a cell phone. She’s in 7th grade. We only gave her one now because she started going to some school events that we didn’t necessarily have to go to, and we needed a way to get in touch with her.   You may think that’s not really a big deal or strange in the least, but when so many of her friends got phones in 4th grade, it made waiting until 7th grade seem to be cruel and heartless! (how ‘bout that middle school girl drama verbiage?!)

My Odd Family :)

My Odd Family 🙂

Second, we are very adamant about modest bathing suits. Scott was a youth pastor for many years, and we always had the 1-piece bathing suit rule. And we still hold fast to that rule with our own daughters. We do allow ‘tankinis’, but the top and bottom have to touch. We do have pushback from our girls sometimes, especially when they are the only ones at pool parties with 1-piece bathing suits. But we get even more commentary about our stance from other parents, who think we should ‘ease up a little’.

And finally, the oddest thing that we do is… well, it’s really more about what we ‘don’t do’… we don’t ‘do’ Santa. We try to focus more on the proper subject of the Advent season. And we have been ridiculed for that decision.

Our decision to not ‘do’ Santa is mainly in part due to the fact that my parents did not ‘do’ Santa. And I didn’t suffer one bit for it. I actually feel as though it made my faith stronger because our focus was on the true gift which was Jesus lying in a manger, given to us all. It also made me love and appreciate my parents even more, because I knew those gifts came from them and that it was a sacrifice for them to give us presents.

I asked my dad once why he chose to teach us that Santa was not real. He shared with me that when he started to actually wonder if Santa was really real or not, his grandmother (my Nanny, who raised him) assured them that this big, bearded saint was indeed real. Then a few days after that, he saw the toy that he wanted for Christmas hidden in the top of a closet. He was so angry and hurt! He did not want his own children to feel that way, so he chose to tell us the truth. Below is how he explained it to me:

“I remembered how I felt…lied to by people I trusted, and like a fool for arguing with friends who didn’t believe. We still did the the Santa thing when you were very little but the night you and I were coming home from midweek service, you were 5 and you said how much you loved Christmas time and Jesus and Santa. I felt a check. …no a punch!…in my spirit that I had to tell you because you had real faith and I didn’t want to lie to you because of a silly tradition that had gone too far and I wanted your faith to stay strong in Christ. I was afraid that later you’d think that if I lied to you about Santa, who’s to say I wasn’t telling you the truth about Christ. I didn’t want to damage our relationship or your ability to believe. God helped me with the explanation about Santa being “make believe” and how that was fun but just like a fairy tale, but Jesus was real. You were very cool with that and still loved Christmas. I also had to explain how other parents didn’t agree with me and how we had to let them raise their kids the way they want to. You were fine with that too and have always loved Christmas. That’s the way I remember it. You may remember more. I was trying hard to let you have fun but still have the right concept about Christmas.”

Clements family portrait, about the time my dad told me the truth about Santa

Clements family portrait, about the time my dad told me the truth about Santa

I kept that part about not ‘doing’ Santa private for a long time. I would tell the girls teachers, because they would inevitably have an assignment to write Santa a letter. The girls were afraid that we would get on to them for writing him! I assured them it was okay and that they needed to do their classwork. But I finally shared my stance on Santa in a woman’s Bible study group I attended in Union City, TN.

We were studying the book of Proverbs, and we came across this verse about lying, “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” – Proverbs 12:22. And I bashfully brought up, “What about Santa Claus? Is that considered lying?” Well, you pretty much could hear a pin drop in the room. Everyone looked around awkwardly. To break the silence, I shared that we don’t ‘do’ Santa, and explained the reasoning behind our decision. I had a few ‘pity’ nods and several other forced comments. I left the room feeling extremely alone, like I was the only one on the planet who had this view of Santa. Then my precious friend Josie caught up with me in the hallway. Apparently she felt the same way I did! She has a special needs daughter named Millie. (We call her Millie the Miracle!) Josie shared with me a story about someone asking her if she was going to teach Millie to believe in Santa. It frustrated Josie so much, she said, “I’m way more concerned about her believing in Jesus!” I was so thrilled to have met another Jesus-lovin’ oddball! 🙂

My sweet friend, Josie, and her miracle daughter, Millie :)

My sweet friend, Josie, and her miracle daughter, Millie 🙂

So for 12 years now, we have taught our girls there is no Santa. They understand that he is a make-believe, fairy tale type of character, that is super fun to talk about and sing about, but he is no different than Mickey Mouse, Superman, or Cinderella. They were taught, just like I was, that other parents teach their kids that Santa is real, so they shouldn’t tell their friends because it would be mean and hurt their feelings. We also just give the girls 3 gifts, symbolic of the 3 gifts that Jesus received from the wisemen. (I have a hard time sticking to that one!!)

There is a new ‘Christmasy’ type of thing that has popped up over the last few years – Elf on a Shelf. First off, whoever thought of this is a marketing genius and now a millionaire as well. But my word, these elves drive me crazy! I think Christmas is busy and stressful enough trying to buy presents for family, friends, co-workers, and teachers, going to Sunday school parties, office parties, and school band/choir concerts, getting pictures made with Santa… and on and on and on. Now throw in a mischievous, make-believe Elf that parents have to come up with endless stories for and make messes in their house just to clean up in preparation for the next Elf escapade? It seems so maddening to me!

Elf on a Shelf - Craziness!

Elf on a Shelf – Craziness!

Sometimes when you are very passionate about something, especially when it’s a belief that is not very popular, it can quickly become a source of pride – and not the good kind of pride. Take Santa for example: sometimes I find myself being prideful that we don’t ‘do’ Santa. Like, “Look at me, I am such a good Christian, I don’t participate in such a worldly activities.” And “I don’t lie to my children, so I know Jesus probably loves me a little bit more than the others.” It can also become a source of judgment. Like with the Elf on a Shelf people, I have to admit that I have found myself looking my nose down on them and thinking how ridiculous they are wasting their time on playing with stuffed toys and making messes for a few cute Facebook posts. Pride and Judgment… that does not sound very Christ-like to me. Definitely not virtues we sing about in our Christmas carols!

Two things I’ve learned in my lifetime: one is that God is always teaching. Second, we are never beyond learning. But we have to have our eyes and ears open to hear what He is teaching us. Last Christmas season, God taught me something through… you guessed it – Jolly Ole’ Saint Nick.

Steve Rusk is a man that goes to our church. Ever since we have gone there, he has sported a fluffy, white beard. He maintains it well, because during Christmas time, he moonlights as Santa Claus. He told me that He started doing this to make money for college tuition for his two daughters. I thought that was a brilliant idea, and was impressed with his resourcefulness and creativity.

Santa Ruskie and his precious daughter, Stephanie

Santa Ruskie and his precious daughter, Stephanie

Santa Ruskie, which is what he goes by during the holiday season, has gotten more and more popular over the 3 Christmases I’ve known him. And if you know anyone in need of a Santa, he is an excellent one. But what I love the most about what he has done is that he uses this platform he has been given as a way to minister to families. And this is the story where God taught me a lesson.

A woman in Oneonta had lost her baby at 24 weeks. The family was heartbroken and full of sadness. As Christmas rolled around, the family went to Palisades Park in Oneonta to see the Christmas lights and to get a photo made with Santa Claus, which happened to be Steve Rusk that evening. As the family prepared to take a photo with Santa, they asked him if he could hold their sweet baby’s picture in the photo. He of course said yes. Then Santa Ruskie asked if he could take a picture with just him and the picture of the baby, because he had taken a picture with the other children. It touched the family so much, and even touched ole’ Saint Nick. I heard he was crying. You can read this full article about the story here:


Steve (Santa) was able to minister to that family in the midst of their heartache. And he was in the position to do so because he was dressed up like the infamous Santa Claus. Right after his sweet daughter Stephanie told me this story, God spoke right to my heart. “Don’t be hatin’ on Santa Claus so much! It’s okay that you raise your family with the convictions I’ve instilled in you, but I can choose to use whatever means possible to share my love with the world; even if it’s a worldly, fairy-tale character. So ease up a little.”

Well, that knocked me right off of my prideful ivory tower! God reminded me that He often uses the things of this world to reach this world. He even tells us in John 17 that we are to not be ‘of’ the world, but we are sent ‘into’ the world to share His gospel, hope, love, grace, and mercy. So to relate to the world and reach those in the world, we may in fact have to use things of this world, like Easter egg hunts, Halloween Trunk or Treats, and yes, even jolly Ole’ Saint Nick! There are several churches these days that have set up Bible studies and even worship services in local pubs and breweries to reach the unchurched.

So this year, I’ve shown a bit more love to good old Saint Nick. I’ve been praying for our own Santa Ruskie that God will continue to open doors for ministry as well as have favor with his clients and find prosperity in this side job. I’ve dropped my pride and judgment, and in exchange, I’ve picked up peace on earth and goodwill towards men.

And for all my Santa-believin’ and Elf-misbehavin’ friends, if you have no conviction about observing these popular holiday customs, then by all means, continue. I do challenge you to make sure you are putting in just as much time and energy into talking about the real reason for the season, the gift of Jesus, as you do taking Santa pictures and making up Elf shenanigans. But if you have a little check in your spirit about this whole thing, but afraid to do something so odd and counter-culture, I encourage you to let Santa and the Elf go.

To Santa or not to Santa, that is the question… but the answer is always Jesus.

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9 Responses to Tuesdays with Sarah… To Santa or Not to Santa?

  1. Linda Drake says:

    Oh my…I’m sitting here in a puddle of tears and nose drippings! That was the sweetest blog I’ve ever read… thank you! No wonder you and your family are so loved by GracePoint members!! This story puts some things in perspective …even for this older age Christian lady!!!
    (And Steve Rusk is an awesome man…precious family too! Love love!)
    When my grandson comes over this week (hes4) we will definitely spend more time on the nativity display than the tree and presents!
    Merry CHRISTmas….

  2. Guyanne Harris says:

    Sarah, you always make my heart happy! Love you chick-a-dee! Yep, we do Santa but we always are sure to let the kids know the real reason for Christmas. And as the kids got older, we were quick to answer truthfully about the spirit of St. Nick and what inspired the actual Saint Nicklous to want to give to the children of his village…that bring the Holy Spirit. And the make believe Santa is just an extension of that giving spirit. Love your blogs, you are so full of Gid given wisdom!

  3. Beth Edwards says:

    My Mom was told that Santa was a lie, but I don’t think that they were told about Jesus’ birth either. There may have been no gifts. So when she had kids , there was Santa and Jesus. When I was about 9, she asked if I wanted to know who Santa was, and I said no and walked out of the room. Of course that confirmed what I already knew. She let the other kids ask her first. We always had gifts from Santa and parents. The wrapped one or 2 were from Mom and Dad, and the other 1 or 2 from santa.We didn’t go to church until I was a bit older. I did know the Story of Jesus.

  4. Lyn Sheehan says:

    You are not alone. Dave and I were always concerned about Santa and disillusioning our children. Our fear was that belief in a fictional character would affect belief in the Real Christ Jesus. We approached the season just as you do. It was funny when our children explained that they were aware Santa was a fairy tale, but Erin asked, “Can’t we just pretend?”

  5. Kim Vinson says:

    Well spread, Sarah! I have had the opportunity to personally experience the love, mysterious, miraculous workings of many things “Smythical” throughout the past few years. God’s light shines very brightly through the courageous and, in your own words, ”odd” living that you and your family do. I have been encouraged, stretched, challenged and very blessed by the way you and Scott honor Jesus, the Lord and Lover of your souls.
    Oh that I would see things as clearly, as positively and as lovingly as you guys do. You spread the love of Jesus everywhere you go and in everything that you do. Seeing Jesus chasers living out their love for Him in the real world is so helpful to me.
    Thank you for standing firm joyously!
    Love to you, Scott, Zoe and Elsie!

    Dorey, aka, Kim

    • sarahsmyth1020 says:

      Well Kim, that comment just blew me away! Thank you for such kind and encouraging words! We love you and grateful for your love and service to the church and the Lord. I am even more grateful for your genuine and authentic faith that you share with everyone that you meet. Love you!

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