But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. -Matthew 6:3-4 (NIV)

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” -Mark 10:21 (NIV)

In the 1990s, Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey played a popular character called The Church Lady, a fire and brimstone Protestant who “discovered” Satan in just about anything…even by transposing the letters in “Santa.” While many do argue that Santa Claus has nothing to do with Christmas, I found it helpful to explain to my little boy how he is connected with Christmas, and especially Jesus.

St. Nicholas was a boy born into a wealthy Mediterranean family, but lost his parents at a young age to due to an epidemic. Inspired by the words of Jesus, where He spoke of giving not only all of what we had to the poor, but in a manner where one hand did not know what the other was doing. Coming from a wealthy family, Nicholas had much to give. Often to avoid his own persecution and that of his recipients, he would give in secret by placing money in the shoes of those who would leave them out for him.

Nicholas was persecuted and imprisoned for his devout faith, then later attended the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and died 18 years later. Over the centuries, the figure of Santa Claus was mixed with the actual St. Nicholas…and we still celebrate the fusion today.

So I let my son know that to do right to please God is the reason to for living right, not getting presents from Santa Claus. I tell him that Santa works obediently for the Lord, and neither he nor the gifts he gives are the reason for “being good.” And we give because our hearts overflow with the love God showed us when He gave us the gift of Jesus, who gives us everlasting life and redemption.

It is easy for the Gospel to get lost in the materialistic shuffle of Christmas, and for a giant, gift-giving elf to overshadow baby Jesus…unless we make sure the young ones know that Santa was insipired by and lives in obedience to God…just as we should.

Christmas is a time to remember what we can give, rather than thinking about what we will receive…and Santa can remind us of that as he points us back to Jesus, the greatest giver of all.