Putting Santa in His Place

throne of lies
SPOILER ALERT!! This post is for adults only! Secrets will be exposed, so hide yo’ kids.A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a tacky Christmas party. Ugly sweaters abounded and there were even men in tights. Yes, tights. No, I’m not kidding (hide yo’ kids and hide yo’ wife). Christmas may never be the same, but that’s another story. Seeing that I’m usually accidentally tacky and not creatively tacky I just wore a t-shirt with a picture of Santa and the words, “Don’t stop believin’.” All of you who are Journey fans just went to a special place, didn’t you?It was all fun and games until a friend of mine stated her surprise that I, a Christian, would have Santa come to my house. My friend is sincere about her unbelief and I appreciate that we have been able to have real talks about faith over the years without it being disagreeable. This time, though, I was caught off-guard. I have known some Christian families who did not have anything to do with Santa Claus. I appreciate their sincerity and I respect their freedom to parent as they see fit. This was the first time, though, that I had ever been challenged by someone who is not a Christian on why a Christian would include Santa in their Christmas traditions.Circumstances prevented us from finishing our conversation, but my friend helped me to understand that people are really curious about faith and practice. The conversation also helped me to think about where or even if Santa belongs in our Christian Christmas tradition.I think Santa has a place, but we need to put him in the right place. After all, the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the acts of a Christian–Saint Nicholas–who gave lavishly to people he found in need, especially children. So here are six key principles to remember as you consider what place Santa has in your family:

  1. Focus more on Jesus than on Santa. Jesus really is the reason for the season. Go to great lengths to help your kids understand that Jesus is the true gift of Christmas and with his coming, he brings the gift of salvation. In our home, the Nativity Scenes have more prominence than Santa.
  2. Fantasy is different from deception. I understand the argument: If kids find out that Santa isn’t real will they think the same about Jesus? The logic of that argument is faulty, though. Most people, as they mature, have very little trouble separating fact and fiction. Actually for children, stories and fantasies can help them learn about morality and virtue. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error).” I believe his point was that we can use fiction to help us understand key underlying truths using make-believe. The key is keeping the mystery alive without lying (see the next point)
  3. When your kids ask, tell the truth. The day will come when children begin to put the pieces together about the truth of Santa Claus on their own. When they ask you if Santa is real, you can answer that question with a question: What do you think? There’s that mystery idea from #2. As they develop, eventually they will understand the truth. Affirm them as they begin to realize the truth and take the opportunity to talk about Christ as the reality of Christmas.
  4. Respect those with a different viewpoint. Many Christians do not celebrate Santa. We should not discount these brothers and sisters as legalists if their decisions are made out of conviction and not obligation.
  5. Think it through. It is important for Christians to know why they do what they do so that they can explain to a watching world what makes Jesus so special. We should also know why we have Santa in our celebrations and how we help our families see the difference.
  6. But don’t over think it. There are enough big issues to stress over as parents. Let’s not let others’ opinions of us add a burden not worth bearing. Have fun! Decide what is best for your family based on biblical principles. Use traditions where possible to point people toward the gift of Jesus.

So enjoy Santa this Christmas, or don’t. Either way, put him in his place.

My New Christmas Tradition

Whether it’s ugly sweaters, epic outdoor light displays, Christmas baking (yes, please),watching “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “A Christmas Story,” or (for you traditionalists) “It’s a Wonderful Life,” everybody has some holiday traditions.Jimmie-Johnson-in-Ugly-Christmas-Sweater

The consistency of doing something the same way or in the same location with the same people year after year embeds memories of what is important to a family. My family has lots of Christmas traditions, but for some reason, celebrating Advent has not been one of them. I don’t know why, but it was never a part of my church or family experience. A few of the churches we attended while I was growing up lit an “Advent Candle” every Sunday in December, but I don’t remember them ever explaining what they meant. (Read more about making sure our memorials have meaning here).

We have always done something to prepare for Christmas. When the kids were younger we had a countdown calendar that told the story of the birth of Jesus by adding one character to a nativity scene every day until Jesus was added on Christmas morning. We also used the great resource “What God Wants for Christmas” to share with the kids about the birth of Jesus during the week of Christmas.

But, I have never intentionally set aside the month of December to contemplate the coming of Jesus and prepare my heart in worship of him…until this year. Now my question is, “Why haven’t I done this before?” This year, at the encouragement of my awesome wife we are using John Piper’s free eBook, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” to lead our family through Advent devotions. I am reading the daily entry in the morning during my quiet time and then we are reading them together as a family at night.

Here’s why I think Advent will become one of my traditions:

1. Priorities – It is easy to get sucked into the materialism of Christmas. Focusing on daily worship of Jesus has kept me from putting too much emphasis on the wish list side of Christmas.
2. Connection – Reading the same devotion daily and then sharing with one another at night unites our family around our faith.
3. Perspective – Advent devotions help me to not just focus on the Bible stories centered on the event of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2, etc.) but to see how every part of the Scripture points to the coming of the Messiah or looks back to his coming.

So, if you’re feeling as uptight as Clark Griswald when cousin Eddie shows up for dinner, relax! It’s not too late for you, either. Here are a few Advent resources you can use with your family.

The Dawning Of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Expected One by Scott James (Great for young families)

Multiple Advent Reading Plans available on the YouVersion Bible App.