Sometimes atheists will ask why Christians believe in Jesus and not Santa Claus. Some atheists say you cannot prove Jesus existed anymore than you can prove Santa Claus exists. Of course, this is not accurate for several reasons.
First of all, Jesus is presented as an historical figure by reputable people in both secular and sacred historical writings. Santa Claus is simply presented as a fictional character.
Second, Jesus is presented as a real person who claimed to be divine and who performed miracles. These accounts are attested to by reputable witnesses and have been transmitted to us reliably; the New Testament documents are 99.5% textually pure. Santa Claus is intentionally, and knowingly, presented as a fictional character who lives at the North Pole.
Third, the intention of the gospel writers was to convey the physical reality of Jesus to responsible adults, whereas the accounts of Santa are intended to entertain the wild imaginations of children. This is why the vast majority of healthy, mentally competent adults do not believe in a real person known as Santa who can travel through air being pulled by several flying reindeer, who can carry in his sled enough presents for all the good children in the entire world, and who can descend and ascend through chimneys even though he is quite overweight.1
Fourth, the writings concerning Jesus exhibit a historical, cultural, religious, and political context with verifiable names, events, and places being an integral part of the record of that context and reality. Santa Claus stories do not contain any such integral contextualization except to state that there is a North Pole and that there are cities and countries where Santa visits at night.
Fifth, the facts are that parents buy, wrap, and deliver presents to children; and we know of no documented occurrences where Santa Claus has been caught breaking and entering, tripping home alarm systems, caught on film, vanishing up a chimney, and riding a sleigh through the air pulled by flying reindeer. This latter point is worth a comment since we additionally have no evidence at all that reindeer can fly. This further adds to the irrationality of the Santa Claus story. Additionally, if a large sleigh (sufficient to carry millions of toys) approached the Washington D.C. area (surely there are at least some good children there), we would expect to hear of military fighter jets being scrambled to intercept the intruder. No records of this have yet surfaced.
Sixth, given that the Gospel accounts were written by individuals who knew Jesus personally (or were under the guidance of those who knew Him) and that the Gospels are historically accurate and superbly transmitted to us through the copying method, we can then assume at the very least that Jesus was an actual historical person. But, we have no hard evidence to establish the validity of Santa Claus. We have found no reindeer tracks on the roofs of millions of snow-covered homes on Christmas Eve. There are no video accounts of Santa roaming throughout peoples' homes. We know of no flying reindeer, and no one has yet established how Santa can live at the North Pole for hundreds of years without being detected--particularly in this technologically advanced culture. Add to that the lack of Santa Disciples going about the world risking their lives, being ridiculed by religious and political adversaries, writing inspirational text, performing miracles, etc., and you really don't have much evidence at all that Santa exists except in the minds of children.
Finally, it really comes down to whether or not either one can reasonably be proven to exist. Very few people deny the historic reality of Jesus; and though millions of children affirm the existence of Santa, we know well that the minds of children are not capable of differentiating between fantasy and reality--particularly when the parents they are trusting tell them Santa is real.
For an atheist to reject Jesus' existence based on arguments found against Santa Claus demonstrates the inability for the atheist to distinguish between historical, verifiable documents and known, constructed children's stories. Jesus was an actual historical figure. Santa, of course, is not.
- 1. Granted, there are probably some adults who may believe Santa Claus is a reality, but I suspect they would be mental patients or some other such people not fully in touch with reality.