Brace yourself, people. For my children, there will be no “Santa.” Oh yeah, that’s right. My husband and I have carefully evaluated the hoopla surrounding the jolly old chap and have decided that it would be neither useful nor pleasant (long term) to carry on the ruse. We don’t harbor any resentment toward our own families for playing Santa with us as children, but we recognize that not all kids come through unscathed. We won’t be absurd about it, though. Let’s face it: Santa is everywhere (figuratively speaking). Just like fantasy literature, we will treat him as fictional and enjoy Santa stories and movies as we would any other fairy tale. In that limited capacity, he’s merry and harmless. But when I look at American society today, I see Santa-worship, and that is no bueno.
So why are we giving St. Nick the stiff arm? First off, we don’t want to lie to our kids. However innocuous it may seem, a child’s trust in his parents is fragile and precious. My poor sis still remembers the meal during which a careless relative spilled the beans (ironically, we were at a Mexican restaurant). She was in such hysterics that she ran mindlessly out into the parking lot and mom had to chase her down. Her anguish came not because Santa wasn’t real but because her mama had not been honest. We can’t assume that this won’t come back to haunt us in later years as we raise our children to trust and be trusted. Secondly, we don’t want them to doubt the existence of God. A child – who can’t “see” Santa or God – may find it difficult to have faith in what is invisible but real. Plus, the concept makes it very hard to teach a child the value of his parents’ hard work and sacrifice to provide for him. And finally, a strange fat dude squeezing down everyone’s chimneys? That’s just creepy. But seriously, for children who are thinkers (as I was), it raises too many questions and severely undermines charity. Why would we donate gifts to needy children if Santa has everyone covered? We intend to implement merciful and charitable Christmastime traditions, but if Santa is omnipresent, omniscient and stocked with endless gifts, our charity is superfluous.
But wait: there’s more! Not only are we not doing Santa, we are not planning to do Christmas gifts of any kind until we have established the true meaning of the holiday with our son, which will probably take quite a few years. My husband and I both agree that something was lost when we reached the age where we were no longer the center of a pile of presents. It had been fun: maybe too much fun, and it had consumed us. Even as Christians, there was no denying the feeling of disappointment when we became “adults” and couldn’t rush downstairs to tear into our loot. In “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the Grinch steals everything – the tree, the presents, and even the roast beast – yet the Whovians are still singing joyously on Christmas morning. How beautiful and utterly unrealistic. Can you imagine the nuclear meltdown if that were to happen in America? To prove my point, I refer to an interesting experiment done by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel (please look up the videos). He challenged parents, on the morning after Halloween, to pretend to have eaten all their kids’ candy, and to record the reactions. While hilarious, it should be impossible not to squirm at the little monsters’ (no longer in costumes) wretched misery and fit-pitching when they believe their beloved candy is gone. Now, this is slightly less heinous than Christmas greed, since Halloween is mere entertainment without deeper value or meaning attached to it. Christmas, on the other hand, is a religious holiday purported to be in recognition of God’s assumption of human form (i.e., the birth of baby Jesus) and therefore, is not simply an excuse for parties and more spoiling of our kids. Wait, what was that last bit? “An excuse for parties and more spoiling of our kids.” It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I’m already fighting the gag reflex over radio ads, television commercials and flashy store displays. Are they proclaiming the coming of the Messiah? Nah – they’re offering to help with our parties and the spoiling of our kids. Yeah, yeah, most Christian parents try to pay lip-service to the “reason for the season,” but actions tell the story, and an alien from Mars would hear something like this: BUY, BUY, BUY, BUY, GET, GET, GET, GET, give, love, STUFF, STUFF, STUFF, STUFF, TOYS, TOYS, TOYS, CARS, JEWELRY, ELECTRONICS, jesus, family, SHOP, SHOP, SHOP, SHOP, PARTY, EAT, PLAY, PASS OUT! Ouch.
My suggestions? Well, I only have one kid so far and this is his first Christmas. He is the only grandchild on either side of the family, so this year we will be making an exception to the “no gift” policy. Since he won’t even be 6 months old until January, he will be oblivious to all the presents anyway. Thereafter, we want to build Christmastime on giving charitably of our time and money. Notice I said “build.” Lots of people contribute during Christmas, like stuffing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, and that is wonderful. But for us, it’s not enough. On my son’s birthday, he will surely be showered with presents. So if we truly celebrate Christmas as Jesus’ birthday, why do we give ourselves so much stuff? What do we give to Jesus? He tells us what he wants: Matthew 25:35-40 and James 1:27, for starters. This may involve giving gifts, but to those who have real needs that are more than material and which are rarely met by the latest gaming console. I’m not content to buy a bunch of toys and hand them to an organization to distribute. I have no problem donating toys, but I want to spend more than money. And I want my son to do more than save pennies to put in the Salvation Army kettle – I want him to learn to live like Christ, loving the poor and needy face to face and therefore treasuring more fully God’s deep love for us.
I know there’s great joy in seeing kids open their presents on Christmas morning, and I don’t pretend we won’t frequently be tempted to cave. I’ve spoken to several wise parents who enforce gift restrictions to avoid the windfall. For example, they buy each child 3 gifts: a book, a toy and an item of clothing. Some require their kids to donate a corresponding number of older toys when they receive new things. These are excellent ideas that we may adopt in future years, but while he is young, we feel we must center Christmas solely around Christ so our son can grow up purely delighting in the core of the holiday. Any expectation of “getting” – even one present – can quickly overshadow altruism in a little one’s heart, so an early, solid foundation is critical. If you asked a bunch of children (from Christian homes) to draw a picture of what Christmas is about, I’ll bet most of those pictures would involve a nativity scene or something similar that would make parents beam with pride. But what if you pulled a “Jimmy Kimmel” and pretended that everything under the tree was for charity? Though possibly cringe-worthy, this would be a more accurate indication of what the holiday means to them.
We give because we have so much, and we have so very much because the Father has freely given to us. I’m not out to vilify anyone for celebrating Christmas with gifts for their kids or even playing Santa, but the subject does deserve sincere consideration. You might first ask yourself, like Charlie Brown, what Christmas is all about. Then ask how you are imparting such meaning to your children, and whether an outsider could identify your beliefs by your actions. We intend to fill our holiday with activities and emotions that will make us better Christians and that truly reflect the Savior we seek to honor. Yes, this Grinch stole Christmas, but in 21st century American affluence, the “stealing” is actually the “giving back.”