I have been teaching the CTR 7 class in Primary — this group all turned 8 during the year and they were baptized. Today we had a lesson on Jesus Christ in which we pulled different scriptures about the Savior out of the Gospels and made a Concentration game from them. During a short explanation of one of the scriptures regarding faith in Jesus Christ, one of the little girls piped in, “I have faith in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.” Trying to feel out her purpose in making that comment, I asked her what she meant by that. She replied, “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.”
Now, I have heard parents use that phrase before, but always rather tongue-in-cheek. As my eight children have grown up, we’ve never presented Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or any of these fun manifestations of the holidays as anything other than symbolic. If asked if they are real, we say, “No, but it is fun to pretend they are.” So maybe I’m a bit out-of-touch with those families who try to maintain the fantasy as long as possible. But surely, I thought, by the time the children are 8 years old and are baptized members of the Church they must know there is no Santa Claus. I told them that faith should be a belief in something that is true. I thought that their protestations were a bit of teasing they were doing. But as the children became more and more confused and insistent, I realized that each of the ten children present in my Primary class believed that Santa was an actual being.
At this point I found myself in an uncomfortable quandary. How could I teach the reality of Jesus Christ when juxtaposed against Santa Claus? Was it my place as a teacher to blow the whistle on St. Nick? The best I could do was a cryptic, “Believing in Jesus is different than believing in Santa Claus,” and then we moved on with the lesson. But this has bothered me all day.
I’ve read some different blog posts around this time of year about how parents should handle the Santa Claus question with their own children; there are passionate views on both sides. I wouldn’t presume to tell any LDS or Christian family how or when to “out” Santa. But what is my responsibility as a teacher of the Gospel when confronted with a comparison of the Savior and an imaginary character? Is this something that doesn’t matter — will children just naturally retain their belief in Christ when they learn that Santa isn’t real? As a Primary teacher, should I ever override the teachings of the parents when it conflicts with my view of the Gospel? Does this experience have implications for other doctrines and principles that are taught in Primary?
What would Jesus do if he had been in my position today in Primary?