"Tell Santa what you want for Christmas!" trains children that it is good to make lists of things they want. And it encourages kids to expect to be given whatever they want. So, this phrase also cultivates a feeling of entitlement. A child who does not get exactly what he or she wants will feel deprived.
To my mind, we celebrate Christmas as a months long orgy of buying, sentimentality, glitter, and gluttony. These things are far from the poverty of the stable where the son of God came into this world. One way you can tell that all that excitement has nothing to do with Christmas is that all the hyperactivity stops on Christmas Eve. You'd be hard put to find a Christmas hymn playing on the actual day of Christmas. There's no money to be made any more. So the din ceases and the thrills fade away. The tree that has been up since Thanksgiving is often discarded on the 26th of December, just on the second day of what should be the actual celebration.
The actual person who inspired the Santa Claus legend is St. Nicholas, and his Feast Day is December 6. "Who is St. Nicholas?" has a good write-up about how St. Nicholas became associated with being a protector of children.
In most of Europe, gifts are given on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, instead of on Christmas. This helps keep the focus on awe and gratitude for God's precious gift to us at Christmas. God the Father sent His Son, God Among Us. "For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him" John 3:17.
We owe more of our present day idea of Santa Claus to Coca Cola than to St. Nicholas. Santa Claus' suit is the Coca Cola brand color. He's a marketing device. Many a Coca Cola ad shows Santa with his head thrown back swigging a bottle of Coke, and it says, "Open happiness." No, Virginia, happiness is not to be found in swigging Coca Cola. It is to be found only in knowing, loving, and serving Christ.
Santa Open Happiness Coca Cola Billboard
Santa and Coca Cola together, even in Assisi, Italy (Christmas Eve 1999).
The elaborate fictions about Santa Claus that society spins out during a child's early years also teaches children that their parents and teachers, indeed the whole society, are capable of lying to them. And I truly believe those lies children hear from us about Santa make it easier as they grow up for children to dismiss the Birth of Christ, the angels, the shepherds, and the Three Kings, as a collection of similar well-meaning sentimental fictions.
What do you think? How did you feel when you found out Santa isn't real? Have you ever thought that when kids lose faith in Santa they might lose trust and eventually lose faith?