Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Christians and Santa Claus

It's that time of year again, and the marketing efforts have begun. The season is supposed to be all about gift-giving, given the fact that God gave the greatest gift when He sent Jesus to be born of the virgin Mary, which we celebrate on and as Christmas. But for the children, this special day of remembrance and celebration has come to mean gift-receiving, and it's hard to escape the cultural icon of Santa Claus. But I'm a father of four young children, and a discerning Christian above all else; therefore, I find it impossible not to defend my conclusion on Santa Claus for my family - and yours. Let me explain...

My wife and I early on decided to tell the truth to our children on most, and maybe even all, matters about which they inquire. So far, they haven't inquired about s-e-x, and so we haven't touched that yet. But they've asked some pretty deep theological questions, and they've asked about babies. While we may occasional simplify the answer for their young minds, (like saying that babies come from God, and that He takes some of Daddy's characteristics and some of Mommy's and forms them in the Mommy's tummy, and brings them out through the slit in her lower tummy - this works for ours, since they were all delivered via c-section!), we haven't lied or pretended or encouraged anything but the truth, at least so far as I can remember. And this parenting policy includes the routine dealings with all the popular cultural icons, such as the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, Halloween-related themes, and Santa Claus.

For example, we teach our children that we celebrate Easter because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. But we also celebrate the arrival of springtime (thanking God for His post-flood promise to keep the seasons going) and the newness of life (which comes from Jesus' life, death, and resurrection - His sustaining all things) on Easter as well. As part of this celebration, we might gather with family and have a feast. We also hide some eggs around the house, or out in the yard, as well as a personalized Easter basket, full of candy and/or small toys, for each of the children, and enjoy watching them find it/them. We might even playfully pretend that a giant Easter Bunny has done the hiding, much like I playfully pretend to be a terrifying giant trying to make a yummy children-stew as I chase the kids around the house. But it's just a game, and they know it. The Easter Bunny is a cultural icon, and the children understand that, each in their own way. More importantly, they have a great time without being lied to, and without forgetting that Jesus' rose from the dead, our hope of salvation.

With the tooth fairy, our daughter - the only one of our children to have lost a tooth (6 of them!) - knows that "the tooth fairy" comes while she sleeps and takes her tooth while leaving a dollar, or a toy, or something like that, but we've talked about that in more detail, such that knows that Mommy and Daddy are the tooth fairy. She's not scared about some mythological creature entering her room at night, and she knows that we enjoy giving her gifts.

As far as relating with other children and other families, let's face it - the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy don't really play that big of a role in the weeks and months leading up to the big days. But Santa Claus, on the other hand, does. That's why my decision for my family will impact your family, and the way you handle Santa Claus. Again, to elaborate...

...Our children know that Saint Nicolas was a real man who lived long ago, loved Jesus, and gave gifts to poor children because he loved Jesus. They understand that loving Jesus is expressed in love toward other people. For the same reason that St. Nick did that, we go and visit the people in nursing homes a couple times a month. It's a living, loving faith. Our children also know, more importantly that Christmas is about Jesus' birthday. We celebrate Jesus' birthday, not so much by giving Him gifts, but by giving gifts to those we love, much as God gave the ultimate gift to those He loved when He sent Jesus. That's what Christmas is all about. But just as Easter combines celebrations, so Christmas does as well. Thus, we have explained to our kids that Saint Nicolas has been remembered for centuries, because of his generosity, and his name in another language is, or has been shorted to, Santa Claus.

Some people, our children understand, have preferred to focus exclusively on Santa Claus, not on Jesus, just as they have done with the Easter Bunny. Some professing Christians have split their devotion, at least in time, to the icons and the Christ. Other solid Christian families have yielded to culture and outright lied to their children by saying that "Santa Claus will bring you toys." But our family will not do that. Other families have decided to allow the cultural idea of Santa Claus coming down the chimney with toys for all the good little girls and boys to be invigorated in their children by singing the songs and reading the stories and encouraging the cultural tradition without telling lies. But that's a fine line to walk, and I'm not sure how it's done. But we stand firm; our children know and appreciate that their parents and other loved ones give them gifts because they are loved, not by some fat man in a red suit, but by God Himself, extending to them through their families and friends. And here's why that matters for you:

If you ask our children what Santa Claus is bringing them, I'm not sure what they'll say. They may giggle and shyly say, "I don't know." What they really mean is, "I don't know why you pretend that Santa Claus brings anything. Instead, you ought to ask me what I'd like to receive for Christmas as a gift from my loved ones." Perhaps they'll say, "Santa Claus isn't real." I hope that doesn't offend you, but it's the truth. He was real; but today, he's a lie.

Finally, the hardest thing about this is that I don't want my children to "ruin Christmas" - from your perspective - for your children. I'm not going to encourage my children to go and tell all their friends that Santa Claus isn't real, or that he's really just your parents, or that Christmas is meant to be about Jesus, at least in bringing up the topic out of the blue. But if the topic is on the table, I'm not going to discourage my children from participating in the conversation, answering questions asked of them truthfully, or allowing the truth to be denied and/or stepped on. That would be bad parenting, and if you disagree, I'd like to know about it. But come with good reasons to lie.

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