WE GROAN that there's too much commercialism at Christmas. But what about another entity that we overemphasize: Santa Claus.

We squander infinitely more time, energy and attention on Santa than we do on Jesus. We make Santa a compulsion, not an option, for our children. We lure them and get them hooked on Santa before we've taught them the first thing about God or Jesus, let alone about the Nativity.

By involving our children in the obvious trappings, we are guilty of multiple inconsistencies: We tell our children they mustn't lie, yet we deceive them about Santa's existence.

We involve our children in fantasies like Santa, yet we say they should be concerned only with reality. We make our children sit in Santa's lap and confide in him, yet we also teach them, "Don't talk to strangers" "Don't let strangers touch you." We say Santa brings the presents on Christmas Eve, but we don't allow our children to witness his arrival, mostly because we can't afford to be caught in a lie.

Years ago, the game show "Family Feud" asked: "Name something grownups do that they tell children never to do." Another question was "Name something parents do which sets a bad example for kids." One of the answers to both questions was lying. A third question was "Name something parents lie to their children about." The No. 1 answer was Santa Claus!

We say that Santa monitors children's behavior 24/7 and keeps lists. But we also preach that God does likewise with everyone in the world.

Can we who foster Santa excessively, who are deliberately dishonest with our children about his existence, who enforce man-made traditions as though they were God's laws, and who have raised Santa to false godhood, afford to end up on God's "naughty" list and thus be deserving of punishment in this life or the next?

Alicia Eaves

Delran, N.J.