A Christian View of Santa
Something Jews and Muslims are far more adept and successful at than Christians is their capacity to train their children in their respective faiths.
Any child raised in a practicing Jewish family will be able to recite sections out of the Torah, explain how Shabbat services are to go on Holy days, and recount long tales of their people’s history. They will know the theological significance and practice of most, if not all, of their twelve major religious holidays (yes, I said twelve!). And what they never do is substitute a secular alternative to their holy day (even if certain secular components are involved).
Any child raised in a practicing Muslim family will be able to recite sections of the Quran, explain in detail the theology and practices of Ramadan, and recount long tales of the Hadith and Sunnah (stories about Mohammed). They will know the theological significance and practice of most, if not all, of their fix or six major religious holidays/seasons. Although ninety percent of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic as their common tongue, every child raised in a religious home will be taught a rudimentary understanding of Arabic. For many children (at least here in Houston), they spend four hours every weekend learning Arabic – a language only used for the reading and study of Quran. And what they never do is substitute a secular alternative to their holy day (even if certain secular components are involved).
Compare any of this to the average, practicing Christian. It is overwhelmingly embarrassing, if you ask me. Virtually no one knows Greek (the language of our New Testament), and on top of this, consider the endeavor of learning Greek to be for elitists and “academics.” Granted, Muslims study Arabic because they believe Allah speaks Arabic (hence, a Quran in Arabic), but hopefully my critique is still valid.
Moreover, people have an infantile understanding of basic Christian theology. (A recent study from Barna demonstrates this pathetic fact http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/462-six-megathemes-emerge-from-2010). Ask the average Christian what theological book they’re reading that teaches them something they didn’t already know, and you will invariably get blank stares. Ask the average senior in high-school the basics of their faith and they have nothing to say. 75% — yes, 3 out of every 4 — high school students leave the church as soon as they leave high school (see http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/147-most-twentysomethings-put-christianity-on-the-shelf-following-spiritually-active-teen-years and see http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/life/20070807/d_churchdropout07.art.htm)
This great migration away from the church is the parents’ fault. The Old and New Testament never say that “church” is the place where all the discipleship takes place. The Church is supposed to be a tool, an instrument, to help the parents raise disciples of Jesus.
Nearly every Christian family I know practices Christmas like any atheist does. They indoctrinate their kids about an imaginary character who jumps into your chimney to give you presents only if you’re good. Every single movie preaches this same message: disbelieve in Santa Claus and you’re punished – ostracized, embarrassed, or the cause of the protagonist’s downfall. Pick nearly any movie and test what I just said. See if every Christmas movie (besides the recent The Nativity Story) doesn’t preach this common theme:
The “meaning of Christmas” is up for grabs – so have a stab at it. We all know it must be about “the spirit of giving” and “being with family,” and it must include all of the mythology of Santa Claus.
I know I sound crazy right now, but this is false. I don’t expect non-Christians to know this, but I do expect Christians to know this.
Of course most Christian parents know the “true meaning of Christmas,” but my point is not that they don’t know it. My point is twofold: (1) Christian parents for too long have not taught or modeled for our children what Christmas means and what it celebrates; (2) Christian parents, often times unconsciously or with no bad intention, have changed a religious season, based upon a purely religious foundation, for a secular, mythical lie made popular by non-Christians. This isn't any mentioning the overwhelming sensation of the Gestapo Elf on the Shelf who is waiting to condemn children's behavior in order to report back to the head Judge whether or not a kid deserves gifts. (For more on this issue, go read an excellent post by Elaine W. Pendergrass, http://elainependergrass.com/2013/11/14/elf-on-the-shelf-vs-jesus-in-the-manger/)
This “change” can also be seen lucidly in Christmas music. You tell me the distinction between “O, Holy Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “O, Come, All Ye Faithful,” with “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” and “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” These songs could hardly be more disparate. And yet, it doesn't stop them from being played in tens of thousands of churches all over America.
I’m suggesting the exact same is true for our Christmas practices and teaching.
What am I proposing?
1) Christian parents should stop lying to their kids. They should stop propagating secular mythology in a purely religious celebration. The exact same is true concerning Resurrection Sunday (or Easter). If your child can’t wait for the mythical “Easter bunny,” you have dropped the ball as a Christian parent and are teaching them that religious celebration and remembrance is not nearly as important as “having fun” with fictional mythology. (I saw a marketing newsletter from a huge church here in Houston that was promoting their massive Christmas production. Right on the cover was a huge hand with a white glove and a red sleeve, holding an ornament — a clear allusion to Santa! This was a church! And inside the program guide, there was a huge picture of a boy being hugged by Santa! I couldn’t believe it. I bet for Resurrection Sunday they have a Bunny hopping over some eggs talking about the benefits of the Spring.)
2) When Santa Claus comes up – and it will in our society – you merely explain that Santa, and all the mythology surrounding him isn’t fact, or real, or true, but that the character of Santa Claus is based on a real Christian bishop who lived in the fourth century. There are great books that explain all of this with cool pictures (e.g., The Legend of St. Nicholas or Saint Nicholas: The Real story of the Christmas Legend; there are others). You don’t have to cease all talk of St. Nicolaus; you merely have to speak of the historical character and how good he was to people, etc. Then, after you speak of him, remind your children again of why we celebrate Christmas.
3) Christian parents should say over and over and over and over again exactly why we celebrate Christmas. Explain the biblical narrative of how God made the whole world and people, and how people kept breaking his rules so much that he was very sad and upset, so God decided to come to Earth to tell us exactly what He wanted us to know and how to live, died for us, rose from the grave, and lives inside of believers to continue the work Jesus did.
4) Before one single present is open, read (at minimum) Matthew 1:18-2:11 and Luke 2:1-21. Don’t rush through it. Read it slowly. Ask your children questions about the text. YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF THEIR DISCIPLESHIP. No one else will be with them on Christmas morning (or before or after it) to explain it like a parent can. Let them see – no matter how impatient they are – that we do not do certain things in life before remembering what God has done for us.
5) When you watch Christmas movies, every time the movie character says, “of course, the true meaning of Christmas is . . .” pause the show or movie and say, “No. That’s not right. What is the true reason we celebrate Christmas kids?”
“David, that mythology is so fun and innocent.” It is fun; I concur. So is playing with Transformers. Yet, my son knows full well that Transformers are not based on fact. Also, “being fun” is never more important than telling the truth. Let us not evade what we’re doing when we propagate the Santa mythology of him and all his reindeer – we are lying to our kids and to make it worse, we allow something else to substitute or take prominence over a Christian holy day. Imagine how you would feel if I started an entirely fictional mythology involving decorations, songs, books, and movies that took place on your birthday every single year. Your birth would take a far distant place among all the “innocent fun” taking place because the fiction. People all around you ask every single year on your birthday – “what’s the true meaning of this day? It's about being with family. It's about enjoying the weather one day a year. It's about . . .” That would be pathetic and infuriating. Moreover, Christians are aware that we are not merely circumventing the celebration of a human birth – but the birth of the God-man, Jesus.
“But, they’ll be the kid everyone hates.” Would everyone hate your child if they didn’t believe Transformers were real? Of course not. Besides, instruct your children that it’s not their job to go around and tell everyone that “Santa’s not real.” If someone asks your child, then your child should tell the truth. But, they don’t have to be “anti-Santa” missionaries.
Let’s take back Christmas in our homes. Let’s be Christian parents who take discipleship seriously. Let’s stop allowing nearly every other faith to be the paragons of religious instruction. Let our children be raised in homes that certainly celebrate giving gifts and putting up decorations and singing – as long as they are done without secular mythology attached to everything. Why do those things? Because we’re celebrating Jesus’s birth.
Look around your house or apartment. If a stranger walked in, would they see anything or hear anything that told them you were a Christian this season (or any time, for that matter)? Or, would your season look, sound, and be performed just like any non-Christian?
Lord, help us. And please forgive us for allowing anything whatsoever for taking our focus off of you for one second.