What fun Christmas is when seen through the eyes of a two-and-a-half year old! Every evening drive where any Christmas lights can be seen are special times with wonders to behold – especially the Christmas Dinosaur at the house on the corner! The Christmas tree has many treasures to be found. Daily exclamations of “There’s Santa!” bring such joy.
While working in children’s ministry, prior to my son being born, I read and shared a lot about family Christmas traditions. I remember being shocked by a blog by Jen Hatmaker in which she said their family has “pulled out of the Santa charade” for their youngest children. She felt that so much time and energy is spent in a lie that then has to be tip-toed around for years until children discover it’s not real and then we try to spin it so it doesn’t quite seem like a lie. What about focusing on the Truth of Jesus?
I remember at first thinking, “WHAT?! How can you NOT do Santa?!” I even shared this as part of a discussion I led with our Caring Christian Mothers one year and I must say it was quite a lively discussion.
So, I filed it away, along with an idea that I LOVED – limiting gifts to just four: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. I swore I would do this when I had children. Still seems like a great idea, but please don’t ask me how many gifts I have already bought for my child this year! (If you laugh, it is because you have done just this sort of thing!)
But these thoughts about Santa have been swirling in my head for weeks now and I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that has been bothering me. I don’t remember when I discovered Santa was not real, and I never really blamed my parents for lying to me about it. It just was. But how can we hold on to that spirit of wonder while not weaving a web that will have to be undone?
Furthermore, over and over I hear people threatening their children that if they don’t stop throwing that fit or being mean to their sibling Santa won’t bring them what they want. And now, there is the Elf on the Shelf who watches to see if you are naughty or nice and reports back to Santa. (If you have one and love it, PLEASE don’t stop reading yet!)
As I said, I’ve been trying to figure out why this bothers me so much – and I’ve decided it comes down to my understanding of God and of grace.
Whether we realize it or not, too many of us have an underlying “Santa” understanding of God. I even had a child once draw Santa when I asked her to draw a picture of God, but it’s not just children. We’ve all said it, or at least thought it: “But I’m a good person. Why did God let this bad thing happen to me?” Being good or working hard equates to gifts and rewards; if someone has less or nothing then it must be because they did something bad. Or, if we have done something bad in our lives, feelings of not being “good enough” or deserving of love flood into our thoughts.
This is not the God I know. This is not how grace works. Grace is an amazing gift from God that I receive simply because I am. There is nothing I can do to earn it. There is nothing I can do for God to take it away. And as a result of receiving and experiencing that grace, I so desperately want others to feel and know it as well.
And then I remembered stories about Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in the Greek village of Patera, now in modern day Turkey. His parents raised him to be a devout Christian and truly followed Jesus’ words to sell all you have and give to the needy. When his parents died, he used his whole inheritance to help those in need.
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home, providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.
St. Nicholas, the origins of Santa Claus, did not do these things just for those who deserved them.
They were simple gifts of grace for those in need of it.
What better symbol of that gift of God’s grace than a child born to poor parents in a barn in a small town. Emmanuel. God with us. God with us in the best of times and in the darkest of times. God with us in our successes and in our failures. God with us, no matter how much we have or do not have. How does THIS become the first thing that comes to my child’s mind when he hears the word “Christmas?”
And so, as I continue to struggle with how I talk about Santa with my son, I keep circling back to grace. Yes, we will “do” Santa, but I am going to try very hard to not ever threaten my child that Santa won’t come or will bring him the dreaded lump of coal, because I do not want him to ever doubt that grace is available to him no matter what he does. Santa, like God, ALWAYS shows up. And when he asks if Santa is real, we will talk about Saint Nicholas, and I hope and pray I can help this little boy emerge into an adult who is just as giving and grace-filled.
May you have a wonder-filled Christmas!
P.S. While I still hope to NEVER have an Elf on the Shelf, I have read some great alternatives to the ever watchful Christmas spy. I would be happy to pass them along if you are interested!