Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite (former Chicago Theological Seminary president and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress) writes in The Washington Post's "On Faith" blog that there are notable distinctions between Jesus and Santa Claus.
Too obvious a point? Well, for one thing,
"What's the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus?" I asked the children who had come up to the front of the church for the "children's sermon" one Advent Sunday when I was a local church minister. A youngster, hanging on to his blanket, piped up, "Jesus will forgive you, but Santa Claus never will."
Righto! Santa Claus - the beloved, bearded, and bespectacled cultural icon and gift-bringer extraordinaire, in contradistinction to Saint Nicholas, the third-century patron of sailors - is not - repeat, NOT - interested in the absolution and remission game.
In fact, he can be a scary guy. He's not just a jolly old elf in the red suit. With Santa it's all, "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town." And worse, Santa spies on you. "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake." You'd better be good or good ole Santa won't give you any toys.
Santa is judgmental. Santa gives bribes for being good, and if you're not good, Santa doesn't forgive. He just puts coal in your stocking and moves on.
Okay ... so Santa's the one who keeps the list and checks it twice and has current info on naughty/nice, while Jesus is the one who tells the paralytic in Mark 5 that his sins are forgiven.
In case that's not enough to go on, there are some other handy signs parents can point to, courtesy of Denise Oliveri:
Santa should be known as the one that brings the gifts to us one time each year. It would be easier if your child actually sees Jesus in order to tell the difference in a picture comparison. Santa can be seen in the stores, walking around, in Christmas parades, and on television so there is always the chance to see and understand Santa. Children may not be able to see Jesus doing these same things, but they can see everything around them which is also our gift from God, as well as Jesus. They should realize that everything is a gift from God.
Really? C'mon: I've been an Episcopalian for fewer than 20 years, but is this genuinely a pedagogical problem we're encountering in our homes? Do families serious about faith formation actually run into this as an issue?
So far from the question of function of the one versus the other - a matter of what they do (e.g., Santa cannot turn water into wine) - perhaps it's more to do with what each has come to represent.
Seems a lot of this can be summed up rather neatly:
Ultimately, Santa is about me and the stuff I so desperately want. But Jesus is about something more: the grace I so desperately need.
h/t Thinking Anglicans