So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – I Corinthians 10:31
This is, according to one songwriter, “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many Christians it certainly is one of the most joyous times, and our attitudes should reflect that joy to the world. And yet every year there are certain controversies among Christians that seem to bring out the worst attitudes – snide comments and judgments passed on whole groups of people regarding what they might be doing to celebrate the season.
This year alone I’ve heard criticism of sending Christmas cards, putting up outdoor lights, and of course, any reference to “Santa” (a.k.a. “Satan”). Usually there are those who are eager to point out the pagan origins of many of our traditions, and I can respect that they may not want to practice these things if their consciences are bothered by them.
For others, the Christmas celebration is an example of how God redeemed a pagan holiday and turned it into something for His glory – just as He can redeem us from our old, sinful lives to ones that glorify Him.
I fully respect the right of individuals to have opinions, express them, and live accordingly. I have my own perspective, which I respectfully would like to share:
As a Christ follower, I try to form my world view from what the Bible teaches. As for things that aren’t addressed in the Bible – like greeting cards and secular decorations – I have my own personal tastes and preferences which I try to channel in a direction pointing to Jesus, whenever possible. You undoubtedly have your own tastes and traditions that can do the same. For a God creative enough to form the world and everything in it, there are probably as many ways to honor Him as there are people.
However, the more “magical” traditions of Christmas, like “Santa Claus,” present a dilemma to believers, since they have to do with the supernatural, and even matters of faith.
Christian parents for a long time just played along. I remember as a child going to church, writing letters to Santa, saying my prayers, and seeing what Santa brought me on Christmas morning. I don’t remember being conflicted, although it seemed Santa and Jesus were in separate “boxes.” (I would later learn that Jesus in not, and never has been, in a “box!”)
When one Christmas Eve I couldn’t sleep, I heard my parents carrying Christmas surprises down from the attic. (>THUMP!< “Lewis, be careful!“) The sound of my parents’ whispers confirmed in my mind what I had already suspected.
OK, I thought, that explains a lot.
My years of believing in Santa didn’t seem to harm me any. As I grew older, I knew Jesus was real, and Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, et al, were myths.
Some of my peers, however, were not as fortunate, and it would seem the enemy of their souls has used their early confusion to his advantage. I have often heard unbelievers lump Jesus in with the myths, declaring bitterly that their parents lied to them about Santa and the Easter Bunny, and Jesus was just another lie.
Many parents will reason that they play the Santa game because they want to give their children the happy, “magical” childhood memories they have – or don’t have. Sadly, attributing gifts to an all-knowing, unseen person who rewards you if you’re nice and gives you a lump of coal if you’re naughty has caused some observant children to believe Santa likes rich kids better than poor kids, and gifts (translated “love”) must be earned. Santa, it would seem, is the god of conditional love and material rewards.
This year I even received a letter from an allegedly Christian ministry that wanted me to help them buy gifts to give needy children, telling them the gifts were from Santa. I had to wonder, why not just tell the children that some people who love Jesus sent them gifts and want them to know that Jesus loves them?
In other words, why not just tell them the Truth?
Tell them the true Nativity story – about the God of the universe becoming a Baby, a star pointing the way to Him, and angels announcing His birth!
(Is that not “magical” enough?!)
Wisemen from faraway lands came, guided by a star, to worship Him, and later the holy family was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of a jealous king!
(Is that not exciting enough?!)
Tell them that those who believe in Him can live forever in heaven, walking on streets of gold and worshiping the King of kings with countless other souls from every tribe, nation, and tongue!
(Is that not desirable enough?!)
When my children were little, I decided to be truthful with them when it came to the “Santa” thing. I found a treasure of a book, entitled “Santa, Are You for Real?!” and read it to the kids when they were old enough to understand it. In it, a little boy is told by some bigger boys that Santa is “fake,” and he is upset. His father takes him on his lap and tells him the story of Nicholas, the real person who lived centuries ago and was the origin of many traditions we see today.
St. Nicholas had been orphaned at an early age. He loved Jesus, loved children, and loved to give – anonymously whenever possible. There are some touching legends about him, maybe true, maybe not. After his death people began giving gifts anonymously in his memory, and rumor had it that the spirit of St. Nicholas was still at work. But the original “Santa Claus” would never have wanted to be the focus. His loving, giving way of life always pointed to Jesus, the ultimate Gift.
So, after telling my children about St. Nicholas and his giving ways, I explained that all the hoopla regarding “Santa Claus” is just a fun game we play at Christmas in St. Nicholas’s memory. The main focus of our celebration – especially in the songs we sing and the gifts we give – is always on Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for turning godly people of the past into idols, myths, and superstitions. Give us divine perspective to stay centered on You, even in this season of so many distractions. Show us how to live out the truth joyfully, not judging others, but being examples of pure faith, exuding Your love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.