Monday, December 24, 2012

Simply Jesus

Like many of you, I have spent a lot of time thinking... praying... reading... pondering, particularly this Christmas season since Eliana understands a lot more, about how as a family we should handle Santa. And Elf on the Shelf... I mean, he is a cute little fella, don't you think?

What you are about to read are my thoughts and opinions, and are in no way a judgement on how your family has tackled the questions surrounding these Christmastime characters. I recognize, though, that this topic can become very contentious, and for this reason, have disabled comments on this post. Should you desire to share your thoughts with me, you are welcome to email me at the address on the right side of my blog. That said, I hope you'll read on.

As children, both Spencer and I grew up in homes that "did Santa." I remember fondly writing him letters, listening to a message he left me on a cassette tape, leaving out cookies and milk and being amazed at how they were gone in the morning. As I got older, I started realizing that some Santas looked a lot more real than others, and eventually, as Santa would make his rounds through our neighborhood, I remember trying to guess whose Dad was dressed up as Santa that particular year. We would wait in line to sit on Santa's lap, run into Santa in various places as we completed all of our Chistmas-y tasks, and I remember singing all kinds of Christmas carols, including "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

And now as a mother, this is where I stumble.

Some in the Christian community would argue that by "doing Santa" and allowing your children to believe in him only sets them up to later doubt you about the truth of God's existence when you share with them that Santa Claus's existence isn't real. And for some, that may be true; and if so, it is a good reason to avoid Santa as "the guy who rides on a sleigh and brings gifts to all of the good boys and girls."

But for me, it's more than that.

As a mother, I want nothing more than to instill the truth of the Gospel and the love of Jesus in the hearts of my children. And I believe our society's modern-day inclusion of Santa is completely counter to that goal.

Let me explain.

Did you catch what I shared a few paragraphs back? That Santa is the guy who brings gifts to all of the good boys and girls.

Think about the words to the much-beloved song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"...

You better watch out, you better not cry
You better not pout, I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list, checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.

Truly, I loved this song growing up. It was cheery, and joyful, and I was always convinced that I had been on the "good" list... or at least, I had been good enough. I remember, though, being legitimately afraid that if I missed up, Santa wouldn't come to my house. And while I was sad at the thought of him not bringing me presents, I was more worried about the fact that Santa would have been disappointed and that I wouldn't have measured up. I wouldn't have earned his visit.

Do you see the flaw here?

Our culture "does Santa" in such a way that children believe the gifts that they receive from him are based on their good behavior. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth of the Gospel.

Scripture tells us in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We can never be good enough to earn God's favor. The second half of Romans 6:23 says, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You see, Santa says, "Be good to earn the gifts I bring;" Jesus says, "You can never be good enough; the gift of eternal life that I give is free."

I don't want my children to grow up in a home where they think that gifts on Christmas or birthdays, the love of their parents, or most importantly, the love of God and offer of salvation is based on their behavior or works. I want them to know the Gospel and the love of Christ, and I want the decisions that we make as parents to be those that help foster their understanding of it.

So for us, our focus for Christmas is one thing: Jesus. Simply Jesus.

You may be wondering, then, how we handle the fact that Santa is everywhere, and that many families we know do the whole Elf on the Shelf thing. Foremost, we don't ignore Santa. To our kids, Santa is a fun, fictional character with made-up stories about him that we read around Christmas time. They liken Santa to Elmo, Mickey Mouse, or Dora. We have done the Santa train and breakfast with Santa, but it is treated the same way as meeting Bob the Tomato at the bookstore, or Clifford at Port Discovery.

Secondly, we have started to talk to Eliana (who will be 3 in March) about the real Saint Nicholas. In the spirit of that discussion, we have started to ask Eliana to look through her toys and pick out some that she no longer plays with for us to give away to other children whose parents may not be able to afford to but them toys. We have explained to her that God is generous and has given us more than enough; and so, we need to be generous as well... not keeping everything for ourselves, but as we are fortunate to get new toys, to then pass along those we no longer use. {As she gets older, we may change this some and have it make more of an impact by asking her to give more sacrificially; for now, though, in the mind of a 2-year-old, giving away ANY toy is sacrificial.}

Lastly, we tell the truth to our kids about who the gifts are from. We do give gifts to them on Christmas, and do so as a tangible reminder of the gift of Jesus that God has given us because He loves us. We tell them that we give them gifts because we love them, too. I grew up in a home where gift giving was extravagant... I mean, really extravagant. That is not the direction we have chosen to take with our own children. Of course I loved and appreciated the generosity of my parents; but if I am to be honest, for most of my childhood and teenage life, I looked forward to Christmas because of what I would receive and overlooked that One who as already given me everything I have ever needed. I focused on what I would get, rather than the gift that had already been given: Jesus. And so we are careful about how much we buy {many of which were second-hand this year} because we would never, ever want it to be about the gifts. We want it to be about Jesus. Simply Jesus.

I feel like our culture is so caught up in the "I know what I want, and I want it now" (remember that song?) mentality, and it is so easy to let that permeate every aspect of our lives, including the ones we had intended hold sacred. Black Friday starts earlier and earlier, and at this point, poses an interruption to family gatherings on Thanksgiving. Parents map out a black Friday strategy so that they are able to get everything their kids want {or they want to get them} from each store. Gifts upon gifts upon gifts pour out so far from under the Christmas tree that they may end up needing their own zip code. And when others see the enormous pile of gifts they remark, "Wow! Santa must have known you were really, REALLY good this year!"

I wonder if that's how the parents in Uganda, where a good friend of mine moved to establish a nurse-managed health clinic, think of Christmas. I wonder if they do black Friday. If we were to zoom out on our perspective a bit, I wonder how ridiculous this might just all seem.

Oh, how I long for more for my children. Not more gifts, more stuff, or more make-believe. I long for them to know Jesus and to think that He is the greatest thing. I long for them to know the joy in giving... generously giving... and how it is so much better than anything in this world they could receive.  I long for them to know that they have already been offered the greatest gift given: salvation through the One who came as a baby, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for their sin... because they could never, ever be good enough to earn it.

So after a lot of thinking, praying, and talking with other Christian moms, this is where we have landed as a family. We have been asked many questions and have been countered with many arguments about why believing in Santa won't hinder their faith; why we need to let them believe in the "magic" of Santa at Christmastime; and how our kids better not ruin it for the ones who do believe in Santa {don't worry... we're working on that and I think we've got it covered :) }. The truth remains that when our children think of Christmas, they remember one thing: Jesus. Simply Jesus.  And we want all that we do to point to Him and His great love for us.

Some resources I have found helpful with this take on Christmas:

From our family to yours, we wish you the merriest of Christmases... praying that you can rejoice in the hope of our Savior.