Monday, December 9, 2013

Muddy Waters: Santa vs Savior

Chiming in on the debate over whether or not Christians should perpetuate the notion of Santa Claus.   Here's my opinion and a few examples.  Not meant to be legalistic or an indictment against those who make other choices.   But to offer some choices and insight (I qualify as an "older woman") and perhaps raise your awareness of the consequences of choices you make when your children are young.  

First off, a question:   Why do parents--in particular CHRISTIAN PARENTS--think that the having of "fun" associated with Santa is more important than the understanding of the WONDER of God-come-to-Earth?

My three youngest children grew up knowing their Savior's birth is what we're celebrating in December--and we spent all of Advent in preparation and anticipation, and also into January (6th - Epiphany = Christmas for Gentiles!).  That is to say:  Santa never came to our house.  

TRUE STORY #1:   My youngest daughter knew that Santa was a fairy-tale.   As the Sunday School children were lining up for the children's Christmas Eve service one December 24th evening, my daughter and a little friend were having a discussion.    They were around five or six years old.   The little friend excitedly mentioned that Santa would've visited by the time her family got home after church.   My daughter sweetly told her that Santa wasn't real, that it was a made-up thing.   The little friend was aghast at this news.

Overhearing this exchange, I quickly pulled my daughter aside and whispered that it wasn't her job to tell her little friend about this.   There was nothing we could do to fix the situation, and the little friend soothed her ruffled feathers by stating that when she got home from church that evening, Santa would too have visited their house.   I told her mother as soon as church dismissed, and hear later that this was no more than a blip on the radar.  

TRUE STORY #2 (which took place many years prior to True Story #1):   I grew up loving the Lord and knowing Jesus' birthday was what we were celebrating on December 25th.  After all, my family attended and I LOVED the Wednesday evening Advent church services which focused on Christ's birth.   The Advent Wreath and lighting one more candle each week was exciting!  Every Saturday morning throughout the month of December, we Sunday School children rehearsed for the service we would lead on Christmas Eve--every recitation and every song memorized BY HEART!   And when the big tree went up in church--oh man!--the anticipation was almost too much!   All of this, to my little girl heart, signaled the arrival of--Yes!  You guessed it!--Santa!!!  Oh, and as an after-thought, Jesus who was born in Bethlehem.

Santa came to my childhood home on Christmas Eve every year, while we were at church.   And so, while I loved our little Christmas Eve services where we children recited the whole Christmas story (from memory!) and sang all those lovely carols and loved the candles and the banners and the marching in and out--oh my dear!--my sinful little-girl-heart was MUCH MORE interested in getting DONE with the program (if only those little kids would line up quicker so we could get DONE sooner!!!), getting the bag of fruit and ribbon & raspberry CANDY from the usher when we marched out, and urging Daddy to drive home as fast as conditions allowed, so that me and my five brothers could get IN the house and SEE what Santa had brought.  

I wasn't a greedy, selfish little girl.   Indeed.   I was (and still am!) the oldest of six children born within an eight-year span to an average American couple.   Simply put, we didn't get presents at other times in the year.   My parents had enough money to pay the bills and not much else.   We weren't starving or poor or needy, but we did NOT ever get gifts at other times of the year.  So Christmas in my childhood years was a HUGE deal to me.  It didn't matter that me and my five brothers always knew we were going to get some new replacement underwear and socks and brown work gloves and new knit hats & mittens, we would also get a nice present, too.   And we spent all of December anticipating THAT!

That was how I saw it as a child--and I would bet I was like probably 99.9% of other American children in Christian homes then and now, where Santa was/is the deliverer of gifts on Christmas.   I'm sure my parents thought they did a fine job of telling us about Jesus's impending arrival, in fact I even knew at a rather young age, that December 25th wasn't "really" Jesus's birthday, but a date that some church guys a really long time ago decided on.   But whatever.   The important part is that (from what I remember) Ma & Pa perpetuated the myth of Santa!   Yes, it was fun!   Yes, it was delicious to anticipate!   Santa's watching to see if I was being good or bad.   Up on the roof-top.  

Sure, I could recite all of Luke 2 from memory (still can!).   And just as I could sing from memory all about mangers and angels and shepherds and silent nights and the little town of Bethlehem, I could also recite "Twas the Night Before Christmas," knew all the reindeer names, and could easily sing about Rudolph, Frosty, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all 12 verses of the Twelve Days of Christmas.   In my little childhood brain, Jesus was a side issue (he was born!) and Santa was the real deal (he brought presents:   visible, real, wrapped presents!).

In my little girl world, I knew that Jesus was more important than Santa Claus, because Jesus IS God after all and all that dying on Easter business was very serious, too--my parents had made that clear.  But I still thought Santa was the cool guy for bringing presents.  

Then the conflicting stories at school, from kids who said there was no Santa (horrors!?!!) and others who said Jesus brought the presents.  (What?)   Well, none of that lined up with what my parents were saying or telling me.  

And it didn't make sense with what little I knew from the Bible either (because at that point, as a six- or seven-year old, my Bible knowledge was basically limited to the highlights of  "Sunday School stories").    How did Baby Jesus bring me presents?   I had five little brothers; I'd seen first hand how helpless they were as babies.   How could a baby get down a chimney?   OR carry a bag with presents?  And how could a BABY know anything when I'd seen that all they could do was eat, sleep and poop their diapers?   It didn't make sense that Baby Jesus brought presents.  

CONSIDER for a moment:   we do our children --especially if we are calling ourselves Christian--a GREAT disservice by muddy-ing the waters with Santa Claus.   It breaks my heart to see young Christian parents rushing around to all these "secular" events (checklist:  take kids to get picture with Santa Claus; attend annual community tree-lighting, for example) and totally MISSING the opportunity to read various Bible scripture verses having to do with Jesus' birth and boyhood and so many of the prophecies.  

Your children believe what you tell them or lead them to believe (up until about age 11 or so).   You really ARE muddy-ing the waters of their understanding when you introduce a fairy-tale (like Santa) side-by-side with Christ.   Little ones in particular are very "concrete" in their understanding of things unexplainable.   Black and white.   Pause now and consider which one is more "visible" (and therefore more "real") to a child:   the red-garbed, white-bearded Santa ho-ho-ho'ing at the mall or the baby Jesus in your ceramic nativity scene?

It's MUCH easier to "believe" in something you can see, touch, feel, hear.   You know that, yourself!   Have you ever fondled a corner of fabric to measure its weight?   Or said, "you have to see this!"?  Seeing is believing.  Thomas--one of Christ's disciples--was a firm believer in that policy!   Children are believers in what they can see, touch, feel and hear, too.

And children are MADE to trust their parents.   So if a parent says, "Santa Claus will bring presents," a little one will believe that's the truth.    And if you later amend that to "Santa brings presents but Jesus is the REAL reason" or you inject "Jesus brings the true gifts" your child will take you at your word, but parents please UNDERSTAND this fact:   because the REAL presents are under the tree--Santa is going to get the credit, and whatever you said about Jesus is--sure, whatever you say, Mom.

My dear friends.   Please consider this:   Satan is having a heyday as we dilute our celebration of the MAGNIFICENCE of Christ's birth by "dashing through the snow" and "Rudolph's red nose" and "Frosty's escapades around town."   Satan enjoys our false busy-ness with baking and making and taking, because anything that keeps us from reading God's Word and knowing Him is a victory for Satan.   Muddy waters?  How lovely.    

We profess to care so much about making Christmas "fun" for them, meanwhile our children have NO or very little comprehension of the Old Testament pointing to the coming Savior--prophecies galore!   Satan is clapping his sticky paws with glee when we snuggle up with our little ones and make a big "tradition" out of watching "Home Alone" and "The Grinch" while our Bible languishes in a dusty heap somewhere on a shelf.  

Many times I've heard moms say "we read Luke 2 on Christmas morning"....and I wonder, did you read all the prophecies that lead up to Luke 2 and Matthew 1 and John 1--and show your children the stroke of God's pen throughout the sweep of history?   Or is reading Luke 2 just a little check mark on a long Christmas To-Do List?   Whew!   That's done.   Let's eat Christmas cookies and drink eggnog now.  

Parents!   Do NOT discount the ability of even very young children to be in absolute AWE of the simplicity and majesty of the "Christmas Story."   Children are MUCH more cognizant--even before they can speak coherently--of the spoken word than most parents will give them credit for, thus parents vastly ignore the "sponge-like" ability children have for soaking up EVERYTHING in their world.   And if some of the details of the Christmas Story go over little ones' heads, that's okay.   Someday the details will soak in and make sense.   Just like they do when you're an adult and something "dawns" on you.

Since when is having "fun" the central purpose or activity of our lives as Christians?   Most mothers wouldn't dream of feeding their children a full bowl of sugar and calling it a meal!  Yet how many will present their children with Santa, arrival via chimney, gift deliveries at midnight and yet fail to point out the much more SIGNIFICANT arrival of GOD IN THE FLESH and the way that one birth changed the course of history (past, present and future) and our eternity?

The "magic" and "fun" of Santa Claus compared to the "majesty" and "sacrifice" of God-With-Us.   Magic is an illusion.  Fun is fleeting.    

Eternal consequences actually hang on the God With Us.  


As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.