|Looking at our under-the-tree nativity set and remembering why we celebrate Christmas|
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” II Corinthians 9:15
Here we are in the middle of December, and all around us are reminders of what we are supposed to be doing … “Only eleven shopping days until Christmas!” I haven’t seen one sign that proclaims, “Only eleven days until we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior! What are you giving Him this year?”
Besides the wonderful account of the historical Saint Nicholas, we’ve heard bits and pieces of the lackluster history of Christmas. In many ways it remains a pagan holiday. At times I strain to hear above the roar around me …
“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ … And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'”
I have some dear friends who choose not to acknowledge the holiday of Christmas one iota. Others go way overboard the other direction, spending tons of money and going into debt. How do we keep a balance, honoring God in how we live out Christmas?
Last week, when my boys and I were in the check-out line at a store, a man dressed as Santa came over and started “Ho-ho-ho-ing” and asking my boys, “Have you been good this year? Do you know what’s coming in two weeks?” Normally I would’ve just smiled and kept busy, but the jolly man bedecked in red and white kept going on and on … “What do you want for Christmas?” My boys looked confused, so I explained to “Santa” and the checker that, “My boys don’t know about Santa.” I tried to say it as sweetly as possible. “Santa” went on to other customers, while our checker looked at me like I was evil incarnate.
That was the first time we had been approached by a friendly man dressed as Santa Claus. I should have expected it, but it took me by surprise. Our boys are ages five and three, and this subject has not come up before this year. Making a mental note that it was time to have a talk about Santa, I smiled at the man and told him that we choose instead to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Praying that I was not bringing harm to Jesus’ name, I was friendly and thanked him when we left. It was not exactly the way I had expected to live out the verse about being ready always to give an answer to every man who asks about the hope within me (I Peter 3:15). Next time I will be better prepared.
Today Santa is rarely portrayed as the original St. Nicholas, a kind man who loved God and people, giving unconditionally. Thankfully, we live in a free country where we can celebrate as we choose. At our house we rejoice at the coming of God’s perfect gift, Jesus. And part of the way we celebrate is by giving gifts to family and friends.
In talking with my friends, I’ve found that I’m not the only one who has been made to feel small and evil directly due to a conversation including the words “Santa” and “Christmas.” One friend sweetly suggested that in my situation I had won a sort of a battle. She is thankful that I said something, because many people think that the account of Jesus is just a fairy tale that no one believes anymore. Many of us still believe in Jesus! He is alive and strong, and His message of hope is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
My friend Dawn has given me some practical advice. Here is what works for her family, and I think it is wonderful:
1. Always tell your children the truth. Stay true to God’s Word and the meaning of Christmas. Emphasize Jesus everyday.
2. However, you cannot ignore “Santa” … unless you keep your kids under a rock, they are going to see a guy dressed in a red suit, hear other kids talking about Santa, or get asked by a friendly adult “what did Santa bring you for Christmas?” Tell them the legend of St. Nick and how the idea of Santa got started. Talk about what a costume is. Talk about “cartoon characters” and playing pretend.
3. Teach your kids how to respond to others regarding Santa. (I learned this lesson the hard way.) I nearly got tarred and feathered by other pre-school parents because my son had taken it upon himself to tell his classmates the truth (I was told that I had ruined their child’s Christmas and stolen their innocence. Ouch!)
So, we talked about how other families are “playing the Santa game.” I told my kids that other families play a game and talk about Santa like he is real. And that my kids should not ruin the game. Instead, when asked about Santa, they need to say “Santa is fun, but I like to celebrate Jesus’ birthday the most!” This response has worked beautifully. It’s a chance to speak up for Christ, but not damage our chance to testify for Him again later.
If you find yourself in a circumstance, planned or unplanned, where you can tell about why you celebrate Christmas, consider it a bonus. And remember, the One who truly knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice loves you no matter what, and He would consider your love His best birthday gift.