Friday, December 21, 2007

The Savior, The Icon

A funny thing happened at the library yesterday. Someone asked Grace what she wanted Santa to bring her for Christmas, and I overheard her say, "Santa doesn't come to our house." The sweet mom felt really bad, thinking she'd offended me somehow, and I tried to assure her there didn't need to be any worries- my kids are cool with Santa, but, Grace was right- he does not come to our house.

Ah, a slightly hot-button issue in christian circles...the issue of how to "deal" with Santa and other Christmas traditions like it that are not directly related to Jesus' birthday. Since it's on my mind, I thought I'd share some of our thoughts on the topic at the Koch house.

Even before marriage, Jim and I knew we weren't going to play the "Santa Game" with our own kids. We'd both grown up with Santa and had good memories of him, but, felt sure that we'd go a different direction with our family. Which brings me to the point that this, and all other issues of life that are not a Biblical black and white, need to be things you decide with the Lord's guidance. What works well for one family may not for another. What one struggles with may not affect another at all. We know lots of families that play "the game" and it's great for them- lots of fun- and it doesn't seem to interfere with the main event of celebrating Christ's birth. My friend Stephani has an amazing set of parents that I admire very much. She loved the Santa tradition growing up and says she always knew what Christmas was all about and even as a small child sort of knew Santa wasn't "real". James Dobson did the Santa thing with his kids, etc, etc. It is a fun tradition for lots of families. Jim and I are sure it isn't for us. Maybe our kids have a bent that would make it harder for them to separate the jolly man in red from Jesus, who knows, but we're going with the nudging the Holy Spirit gave us. Santa seems a little unnecessary to us, I guess, since it's all fun and games until some big misunderstandings about real truth could come into play. If you find a good balance for your family and Santa's a part of it and you want him to be, great- as long as families take into consideration the risks involved in combining the awesome season of celebrating the Birth of Grace with a non-Deity cultural icon.

John and Noel Piper are great spiritual mentors to us. We were elated to find they share many of our same thoughts on all subjects involved in parenting, including this one. I may be adding many quotes from Noel Piper's book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions, which I recommend highly.

Christmas is Jesus' birthday celebration, and in everything we do we want to celebrate Jesus Christ. We give gifts to remember and rejoice in the gift God gave in His Son. The lights everywhere at Christmas remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World who pierces the darkness with the light of life, etc... If you're thinking we feel Santa should be banned from your homes, keep reading, because he's still a part of our Christmas too. I'll share how we fit him in later.

First, though, here are a few thoughts on why Santa (at least celebrated the way American culture celebrates him) isn't included in our traditions.

1. Pretending and using our imaginations is fun, but not if we try to convince our kids it's actually real. We want our kids to know we always tell them the truth. There's a lot of imagination at our house, but, there's never a gray area- our kids know when it's a game and when it's for real. Some parents take Santa pretty far, making up wild answers for their kids' questions as they grow and get more wise to the complications in the Santa story. Eventually kids realize it isn't true at all- which for me wasn't a big deal, but it could be to some kids. We don't want to risk losing their trust in the integrity of our words.

2. "...celebrating with Santa and a manger will postpone a child's clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It's very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part truth and part imagination to find the crumbs of reality (Traditions, p.80)."
You could try to keep it light, keep it a game, but small kids have a hard time separating truth from fantasy.

3. Santa sure sounds a lot like God sometimes.
  • "He's omniscient-- he sees everything you do.
  • He rewards you if you're good.
  • He's omnipresent-- at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
  • He gives you good gifts.
  • He's the most famous 'old man in the sky' figure (Traditions, p. 81)."

But really, Santa's not that much like God. And there are some big problems with these Santa facts.

1. NO ONE holds the world in the palm of their hand but God. I'd hate to confuse my children with that one... No one sees everything but the Lord.

2. Santa rewards you on whether or not you were good enough. God gives richly through grace, and we never deserve it. His love is not conditional. And Santa really isn't concerned if you're naughty or nice, is he? Even the naughty kids seem to always get all their toys anyway, right? This is also used as an accountability (and guilt) tool by some parents to encourage their kids to be good. Two nights ago I heard a frustrated mother at Target reminding her disobedient daughter to be good, because Santa is watching. Hmmm...I'm not even going to get into saying all the things that are wrong with that.... Kids will be much more richly blessed to know that, "...their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas (Traditions, p. 81)."

3. NO ONE is omnipresent for every intimate detail of every thing and person on earth and in heaven, past, present and future but the LORD. Saying there's a mortal man- well, mortal but he's extremely old- that could supernaturally be everywhere in one night- that's just not possible. This also brings me to the thing that irks me most about the Santa game. Telling kids Santa goes everywhere in one night to deliver toys to children all over the world infers that the entire world celebrates Christmas. This glosses over the truth that the world is FULL of lost people- many who've never even heard the Name of Jesus- and we need to care very much about that. From the youngest age possible, we want our kids to know there's a huge, dying world out there that they can impact for Christ as He works through them.

Also, if kids think they can ask Santa for anything and expect to receive it, they're either going to get very let down or they're going to get really selfish at Christmastime. They also might not see the need to reach out to others, since Santa can take care of that for them. They may miss the opportunity to reach out to others at Christmas (and to gain the desire to do so the rest of the year). "Santa" can't bless anyone, but we can, through Christ, in countless ways.

As I said before, Santa does fit well into our traditions. He is a derivative of St. Nicholas, whose story you can research on your own or read a little about here in a post of mine from last year. What an incredible example of love for Christ, spurring on to love for people! Wow. I won't rewrite the ways we incorporate St. Nicholas into our Christmas morning- you can read it later if you'd like. However, I will add that next year we'll be doing stockings on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, instead. I had planned on starting that this year, then realized the 6th was the day before and I'd already missed it...oops.

So, to close this very long post, our kids totally know who Santa is, they think he's fun and always point him out in the store. But, when we see him, we remember St. Nicholas, who largely inspired the American Santa we have today, and we remember that God reached down to humanity to offer salvation and friendship with Him through Christ, who's birth we celebrate in December. We remember that His grace to offer His Son for us spurs us on to extend that love and grace to others. The gift of Christ, for us and for this entire world- that's why we celebrate Christmas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog today and am randomly reading through older posts and the more I read, the more interested I am. We seem to share so many of the same values and beliefs - and it is SO refreshing to know that someone else handles Santa/St. Nick/Christmas the EXACT same way we do! do we convince our 3.5 yr old that Santa is NOT real...?? He is convinced and doesn't seem content on taking OUR word for it! lol
Thanks for sharing your life - I'm bookmarking your blog for sure! :)