Santa, Christmas, and Christianity
December 10, 2018
Since Christmas of 2015, my husband and I have decided to rethink the way we celebrate Christmas. As Christians, Christmas is a very special holiday in which we get to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The best gift of all is the gift God gave to us through His Son, but if you ask any child what Christmas is all about, they may say: presents.
In the months preceding Christmas, in an attempt to modify a child's behavior, it may be tempting to bribe them with presents or say that Santa sees everything. I have even fallen into the trap of suggesting that my sons write up their own Christmas Wish Lists, only to pretty much completely ignore it later because (1) we have already decided what we want to buy them and (2) we can't afford the whole Lego Store.
I remember, as a child, my mother and father let me in on the secret that there is no Santa. This may have been because I was always skeptical anyway and they wanted to keep the magic alive for my younger siblings. If I knew it was a secret, I could play along and not ruin it for them. Smart thinking, mom.
Anyway, at some point in my early years I came to the conclusion that believing in Santa isn't always beneficial for a child's emotional state. Sure, the parents who buy their kids gifts, label most of them as "from Santa", and tell them that he came in the night and left the presents under the tree while the children were sleeping, may have good intentions. But what are they teaching their kids? That they deserve multiple materialistic items to clutter up their rooms and minds? That they've earned it? That there is a man who sneaks into the house once a year and leaves toys? That reindeer actually can fly? Where does it end!?
Yes, I understand the difference between having a colorful imagination and telling lies, but where is the line? Believing in Santa, for the children who come from a poor family, can be heartbreaking. Especially when they go back to school, happy about the new pair of socks that Santa brought them, and a classmate is coming excited to share about the many new and expensive clothes, toys, and high tech gadgets Santa brought them. How is the poor child supposed to feel? If Santa is the one deciding which child gets what, what is that child going to think? Somehow they weren't good enough? They aren't loved as much as the other, richer child? I know that parents aren't intentionally teaching their children this, but it's just how the mind of a child works. They can't help but compare.
It is possible to teach your children the truth about Santa, and keep the Christmas Spirit alive. Take the focus off of the jolly fat man in red, and put it onto the one Man who bled and died for them. Christmas is about Jesus. Jesus was born as a human baby and we celebrate His birth as an act of worship. To use this holiday as an excuse to spoil our children and focus on Christmas gifts they will get perverts the true reason for the season.
In our home, we are trying to move away from the worldly Christmas traditions and move toward a more authentic Christian way of celebrating Christmas. So instead of focusing on what my kids will get for Christmas, we try and teach them to focus on what they can do for someone else during the Christmas season. And this doesn't always mean buying someone a toy or a gift. You don't have to spend money to bless someone. This could be helping someone around the house, writing letters to people in the military or in a nursing home, or picking up trash at a park.
This doesn't mean we do not buy fun things for us as a family. We do. But we do not wrap it, put it under a tree, or glorify the mystery gifts piling up. The anticipation for opening piled up gifts is exciting, yes, but we need to be careful about what mindset we are fostering in our children. They are fairly simple minded, but they also are smarter than we give them credit for.
We have taught our children that there is no Santa Clause from a very young age, so it was never something that was a shock to them. This came up in a preschool setting once, and the preschool teacher told me all about it - didn't go well. A friend of my younger son was excited for Santa to come to his house on Christmas, and my son had told him that Santa wasn't real. This ended up in a big emotional argument. It's really is a tricky thing. But you have to decide what is right and good for your family. So after school that day, I took him home to talk about it. My son was angry because his friend was believing a lie, but his friend was sad because he felt like my son was being mean to him. I told him that some kids believe in Santa, and even though he's not a real person in the way they believe, it is impolite to intentionally call out a Santa-believing friend. I have a "the truth doesn't care how you feel" mindset and that's how I raise my kids, but we also need to be aware of and compassionate towards others who may parent differently.
Teaching my boys that Santa isn't real was easy. But when we told them we were no longer going to participate in the worldly tradition of opening a ton of presents on Christmas morning, they weren't happy. Of course they weren't. They were raised to expect the presents, making a list and getting what they want. It came with the territory. Fall comes, along with all the Christmas shopping ads and store decorations, neighbors putting up lights, teachers bringing candy canes to share with the class, the hype starts early. The heart of a child is selfish. It just is. We are all born selfish and sinful. You don't have to teach a child to be selfish - they just are. So when you mess with their personal happiness, you'll be met with strife and tantrums. But the fruit that comes later on is worth it. When a child is being intentionally raised with love, truth, and structure (and help from the Holy Spirit), only good things will come.
So instead of doing the traditional Christmas morning in front of the tree opening gifts for hours and letting your kids quantifying your love for them in their mind in the amount of cool new toys they got, why not try a bible story and hymn time morning instead? Depending on how old your kids are, maybe they can read it aloud. Come up with meaningful family traditions that they will love and bring with them when they start their own family.
My favorite new tradition is our Christmas Cross with the 25 days of the names of Jesus. For each of the 25 days leading up to Christmas, we put an ornament on the Cross with a name of Jesus. Then we read a scripture passage where that specific name is mentioned. And finally, we worship Jesus through prayer and song together. It took some time for my boys to warm up to this tradition, but now they really love it and look forward to it.