Let's look at some similarities of these two fairy-tale personas:
- Jesus (being God) is ever-watchful -- see Psalm 139:1-4
- Santa sees you too -- see "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
- Jesus rewards good behavior (heaven) and punishes bad behavior (hell)
- Santa also rewards good behavior (toys) and punishes bad behavior (coal)
- Jesus has a list of good people (The Lamb's Book of Life)
- Santa has a list of naughty and nice children
It's pretty clear that they both represent attempts in our culture to keep children in line. Some even view Santa as a way of passing the messages of Christianity onto nonbelievers. What about their differences?
- Santa has a physical, tangible existence -- he eats cookies, drinks milk, comes down chimneys, etc.
- Jesus lives in your "heart" and is no longer* a flesh and blood being
- Santa rewards you in the here-and-now with material positions
- Jesus's gifts have to wait til you die (except for babbling incoherently and other "gifts of the Spirit")
- Santa will put you on the naught list as long as you're bad
- Jesus will roast your ass in hell forever if you screw up and forget to say 'Sorry' before you kick the bucket
- Kids who stop believing in Santa Claus are praised for their cleverness and skills of deduction
- Kids who stop believing in Jesus are shunned for immorality and outlandish blasphemy
It's also interesting to note how society relates to these two. Santa is looked upon as fantasy, whereas Jesus is touted as 100% fact (even though Santa is more plausible, baring the "magic" and violations of physics and economics). The Santa myth is looked upon with fondness as something innocuous that we can look back upon and laugh about. But the much more bloody and unbelievable myth is put forth in all seriousness.
There isn't many wars fought over which of Santa's ideas are to be followed. There isn't any Santaquisions or Elf Burnings. As Stefan Molyneux of FreeDomainRadio.com points out (paraphrased), "Nobody drinks the wine that is supposed to turn into the blood of Santa, and you don't eat bread that turns into Santa's flesh. Santa doesn't come back from the dead, Santa doesn't heal the sick and so on."
That's why I don't have a problem partaking in the pagan and secular mythologies of Santa Claus. When the time comes, I won't be lying to my susceptible children about the existence of Santa. It's indeed just as harmful if you lead a child into thinking they "better watch out" because Santa is watching them, as it is to tell them God is watching them and they'll burn in hell forever if they're not good. I'll most likely let my children know that it's just a fun story, and I'll pretend with them for as long as they want to. I see it as an opportunity to show them critical thinking, weighing of evidence, and the parallels with religion. When a majority of the world can see the universality of myth -- that their creation stories are one in the same, unjustifiable myth -- we'll be a lot better off.
I get asked sometimes why I bother writing about and making videos on religion if I don't believe in it. The fact is that many, many people do believe in the teaching of their supposed prophets and deities. These people's beliefs affect the actions they take upon others, and that's the problem. If there were "Santa Wars" fought daily, I'd be here pointing out the absurdities of flying reindeer, the lack of evidence for elves, and arguing for people to put away their childish notions of a fat guy who lives at a toy workshop at the North-Pole. Luckily, no one takes Santa seriously enough to jeopardize the fate of the planet, so I'll keep railing against the bigoted religious intolerance that is doing just that.
*Assuming Jesus ever existed in the first place.