what about santa?

How should Christian parents handle Santa Claus?  Is it OK to tell children there is one–or let them believe it if they hear about him from other children or relatives?

For every Christian parent who thinks it’s a harmless fantasy for their son or daughter to enjoy along with their friends, there are three who are adamant that no Christian parent should permit a son or daughter to risk being distracted from the Christ child at Christmas.  
I’m not convinced that all the Santa “trappings” are that big of a deal.  For example, I don’t know that letting little Timmy sit on Santa’s lap at the mall and tell him what he wants for Christmas undermines the manger.  Or that buying some discount wrapping paper decked out with Santas is a spiritual calamity.  
I do think it matters more what Timmy’s mom and dad tell him–or let him think about Santa.  If l tell my children that the guy at the mall or on TV delivers their presents on Christmas eve–or neglect to correct what friends tell them about Santa, I wonder how that is different from deception?  And even if they can’t say the word or define it, I think that’s exactly what children will look back on it as once they learn the truth.
Why not tell them that Santa Claus is a fable based on fact?  Tell them the story of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) who lived in A.D 200-300’s.  We don’t know exactly when because there’s not a single historical document from his day speaking about his life.  But biographers writing within 200 years say his parents died and left him with great wealth.  Which he gave away. One of the most famous legends is that a poor man with three daughters could not pay the dowry to marry off his eldest daughter.  He was even too broke to buy food.  The story goes that Nicholas learned of it and threw a bag of gold in the house during the night.  He did the same with the second and later the third daughter.  He wanted to do it anonymously but the last time the father was waiting and discovered the identity of his benefactor.
Later when he was in the ministry, he reputedly put gold coins in shoes when they were left outside the homes.  In the early 300’s when Diocletian set out to destroy the church, Nicholas was imprisoned for years.  When released he continued to faithfully serve the Lord for several decades.  While I don’t put much stock in some of the outlandish miracles he’s claimed to have performed, to me it’s telling that he neither wrote about himself–nor had others write about him.  We know that he existed, but he seems to have been quite disinterested in leaving a personal legacy.
Which makes the tale of him being chosen Myra’s bishop, plausible–and marvelous.  When the bishop there died, Nicholas traveled to the city with other ministers and bishops to select the man’s successor.  As was his custom, Nicholas got out of bed early and went to the church to pray.  An elderly minister was already there and asked him, “Who are you my son?”  
“Nicholas the sinner” came the humble reply.  “And I am your servant.”  The aged priest asked him to follow him and they entered a room of the assembled bishops.
“I had a vision that the first one to enter the church in the morning was to be our new bishop.  Here is that man: Nicholas.”  Indeed he was chosen as bishop.  His generosity and humility are legendary.  But legends usually have a core of truth to them.  That’s the core our children can benefit from.  At least, if it doesn’t eclipse Jesus.  Nicholas would have hated that.