The Holiday Season is upon us, and inevitably, because I call myself a Christian, I will have to defend some of my ‘bold’ worldly choices. For example, I often say, “Holidays” and not, “Christmas.” (Insert audible gasp from the right!) I am all superficial about decorating and insist on (what I consider to be) a perfect Christmas tree. I may have questioned Elaina’s recent placement of her pre-school era, handmade popsicle stick snowman on the front of my tree yesterday, giving her this ultimatum: Put it on the back, or get it off the tree. I’m not proud, but there it is.
I also believe in Santa Claus. While Santa stopped visiting our house in his official capacity quite a few years ago, his spirit is alive in my heart, and I miss his presence in our celebrations and traditions.
A friend recently asked online if people allowed Santa to be a part of their Christmas celebrations. Mary is a Christian, and has a blog dedicated to homeschooling, so it’s fair to say that most people who commented were probably Christians too. I was amazed at the results! I estimate that around half the people who commented said they did not include Santa Claus in their celebrations!
Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. About 7 years ago, I directed the childrens’ Christmas program at my former conservative Baptist church. The theme was ‘gifts,’ and was centered around a reminder that we are all given wonderful gifts by our Savior, to use to serve him. Of course, we highlighted the greatest gift God gave to this world – His Son, who came as a baby in a manger, to save us all. As a tribute to the many missionaries who we supported, our children sang, “Grown-Up Christmas List,” an Amy Grant classic! Also made popular to a new generation, Kelly Clarkson recorded this song all about asking Santa for people to be loved, for the world to be just and fair, and for wars to seize. I had parents refuse to allow their children to participate in singing this beautiful song which begins;
Do you remember me?
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies
Well, I’m all grown-up now
And still need help somehow.
I’m not a child
But my heart still can dream
Now… I’ve gotta tell you, I find that really strange. People wouldn’t let Santa be a tiny part of a song focused on wanting the world to be full of love and peace at Christmastime, but had no problem with them singing Silent Night (which it most certainly was not), or Away In a Manger (an ancient hymn depicting the picturesque scene that night in Bethlehem, where the cattle lowed and Jesus didn’t cry…??). Now I love those songs as much as the next guy, but really?
So, let me preface my defense of Santa Claus by saying, I understand that Jesus Is The Reason For The Season. My grandma will be getting out her, “Keep Christ In Christmas” yard sign any minute now, and I want to be sure I keep Him at the center of my holiday celebrating. But I think we can still include Santa, and more importantly, I think he can actually be the perfect way to teach our littlest ones about God’s love for us!
As adults, we recognize that the world needs a savior, and because God loves us immeasurably, he sent one! For YOU and ME. It’s mind-blowing stuff. I learn something new about the Christmas Story every winter season. The intricacies of the culture and significance of a baby boy born in Bethlehem are so meaningful and interesting to study. But within the little minds of our kids, the Christmas story goes something like this:
Jesus was born to a virgin (possibly the most controversial and miraculous thing about the whole story), who was visited by an angel that ‘came upon her.’ (BTW – try to explain that to your tween.) An angel also visited her soon-to-be husband Joseph and explained the whole thing, so he chose not to stone her. Again, good luck with your explanations. Next, they go to Bethlehem for a census, and they are offered a place in a barn to deliver Mary’s baby in. We display pictures of the beautiful manger scene, sweet Mary in blue, Joseph standing proudly nearby – each of them looking 35 years old, not the more likely teen-mom scenario that was actually happening. King Herod is trying to kill the baby. Shepherds show up. Other “kings” show up. They bring unfamiliar gifts with names our kids don’t understand. They followed a magical star. And a Caucasian angel in a flowing white dress hangs mid-air like he’s on a wire, playing his harp for the baby the whole time.
It’s alright that our kids hear this version when they are small! I think that its really just been in the past year or two that the intricacies of the Christmas story are starting to be real for my 14 year old. But Santa! Now there’s something she understood! As early as 2 or 3, she fully grasped the idea of a man in a red suit bringing her new toys.
Many people on my friend’s comment thread gave the reason of, ‘choosing not to lie to their children,’ for why they don’t include Santa in their celebration. If you feel like Santa is just a big lie, then certainly stay away from him! I’m not here to judge your heart or your convictions. But I don’t feel that way. At all. Santa is magic and hope.
Santa is imaginary, yes. But not to a child. He’s a jolly old guy who lives far away with a sweet wife who bakes him too many yummy treats. He loves animals, and he has magical ones. He took in elves when no one else on earth would have them (I might have made that part up). He spends his days making toys for children. COOKIES are his payment. He can fly around the whole earth in one night. He’s magic, and miracles.
And I wanted my daughter to believe in magic and miracles! I wanted her to have a childhood where she believed that anything could happen. I wanted her to ask Santa for outrageous things, and see that if she believes, outrageous things can happen! Because that is more of an understanding of the outrageous-ness of Christ than the Christmas story would have ever provided her as a toddler.
In the years when Laine didn’t understand a ‘virgin’ birth, or King Herod’s desire to start a baby genocide, she understood the power of placing her hopes in a selfless gift giver.
Santa, and the tradition of St. Nickolas are steeped in parallels to Christ’s immense love for us. A man who loves us and wants to give us good things. Who wants to give us the desires of our hearts. Who challenges us to be good all year. Who asks for something simple in return for his immeasurable generosity. And now that Santa no longer visits our family, we often think back to the beautiful attributes of Santa Claus, and discuss how we can be more like him – and consequently more like Christ – in our own lives.
What can we do for others this season? What can we give? What divine moment can we create for other children? What can we do to show the world that magic and wonder and miracles happen? Because the world must believe in these things if they are to believe scripture, and embrace the magic and miracle of virgin births and resurrections.
We have always celebrated Jesus at Christmastime. Sang Christmas hymns, read the story over, and over, and over, participated in Christmas concerts and plays at church and school…we’ve never excluded Jesus. He truly is the Reason for the Season, as cliche as it sounds. We celebrate his birthday, we just invite Santa to the party.
Santa Claus has provided my girl with memories she’ll carry through her entire life! We created traditions that I hope she passes down to her own family when she’s grown, and I was able to show her that magic can happen – that our wildest dreams can come true, if we just believe. She learned what faith is through Santa Claus, before she understood what it was to have faith in God. I’m so thankful that we have this simple way of showing the people we love the very most, the love of Christ at Christmastime.
When Laine outgrew visits from Santa, I discovered that she didn’t feel ‘lied’ to at all. She saw that her earthly mother would go to great lengths to make wishes come true – to create magic right there, in our little family room, around our charlie-brownish Christmas tree.
She thanked me for all the mystery and wonder Christmas had brought her for 9 magical winters. In amazement at my commitment to making her wishes come true, she saw the great love I had for her. I maintain that it reflects the extreme love her Father In Heaven has for her – who, in his infinite wisdom, will give her more than she could ever imagine.
Merry Christmas, however you celebrate!