That is the question for many Christians. I’ll say up front that I will not tell anyone how to raise their children, so you are on your own to make this decision. But I will tell you my approach and open it up for discussion if you like.
There are some compelling arguments about why Santa shouldn’t be included in Christmas. Putting both Santa and Christ at the center of the celebration could potentially confuse children. Santa shares many of the qualities we praise in God but not always in the right way. For example Noel Piper has this to say:
What about Santa’s spying and then rewarding you if you’re good enough? That’s not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren’t good at all. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.
These are fair points, but I think you can take the Santa-fear a little too far. This is comically illustrated by John Shore:
Don’t we Christians hate the fact that that while we’re trying to have Christ be the focus of Christmas, everyone else wants the primary personality of the Christmas season to be Santa Claus?
And doesn’t that make Santa the anti-Christ?
Ho, ho, ho, indeed! The gall of The Dark Prince pretending to be jolly!
And Santa being Satan certainly explains a lot. For one, it explains the red suit. It also explains the flying reindeer.
Personally I think that there’s little harm in playing along with the Santa charade while children are still young and full of wonder as long as it isn’t presented as cold hard fact. He’s a character in a story and for the most part he promotes goodness, charity, and generosity. He’s based off a Saint after all, right?
I have a 1 year old, and when she starts asking about Santa, I’m going to do my best to deflect the attention to Christ. The birth of our Lord and savior is true reason why we celebrate Christmas and all the decorations, trees, presents, songs, stories, and of course Santa are all part of the way the celebration has evolved over the years. I don’t find anything inherently wrong with that.
The danger is in using any of that as a crutch. If you let the children buy into the commercialism hype of Christmas without making Christ the center of it, then you risk them missing the point. It is up to us as parents to steer them in the right direction and teach them discernment so that they’ll know how to find truth themselves.
So I say let them have Santa, but make sure they have Christ first and foremost.