The holiday season is in full swing at my house. Christmas Trees, Nativity scenes, Advent calendars and even Santa Claus.
Shocking, I know.
The ubiquitous red-suited bearer of gifts still hangs around my home as part of the Christmas fun in our family. Some parents seem to want to move away from this tradition as Santa Claus becomes so intertwined with the secular Christmas narrative that in order to view Christ, we must also jettison Kris Kringle and his assorted paraphernalia.
To be fair, during the Reformation and following through to the Puritans, old St. Nick wasn’t seen as a positive thing. He was “popish” and to be avoided. The 1645 Directory of Public Worship for the Presbyterian Church stated it rather bluntly, “Festival days, vulgarly called Holy days, having no Warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.” It seems in many respects that the original war on Christmas was staged by the Protestant church.
But we are inheritors of the Victorian Romanticism that brought all of this back to the center of popular culture. Thus, for over 150 years, Santa plays a major part every December in our stories of the season.
So what’s a parent to do?
I have a few suggestions that may help you be able to communicate the story of Christmas clearly without allowing Santa to get in the way.
Celebrate Jesus – Using Advent tools and family devotions, talk about Jesus EVERY day of the Christmas season. Don’t let up. The culture isn’t, and you shouldn’t either. Tools from your church or other congregations can help you keep this focus for your family. This year, my family is using the advent family guide from the Austin Stone found in their app. Our friends at The Gospel Project also put one together called, _The Expected One .
Discover the Real Guy – Santa is based on a real pastor and church leader. Ok, so you have to peel back quite a few layers to get to his story, but we always told our kids the story of St. Nicholas. As one of the most celebrated saints in both the Eastern and Western churches, it’s not hard to find information about him. However, over the years, fantastical stories have been added to the historical record, but we do know this:
- St. Nick served as the bishop of Myra on the southern coast of modern day Turkey. He grew up in a wealthy family who died when Nicholas was young. Heeding Jesus’ words of caution to the rich young ruler, Nicholas lived a life of generosity and gave his inherited wealth away. Under Diocletian (284-305), an emperor who heavily persecuted Christians, Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. Later, under Constantine, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 and defended the orthodox teaching of the Scriptures. He died sometime around 340.
- The most famous story attributed to him relates to a poor family who didn’t have enough money to pay for their daughters’ dowry. This would have prevented the daughters from marrying so Nicholas anonymously tossed a bag of gold in through an open window to pay for the oldest daughter’s dowry. It just so happened that the bag ended up in a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. While there is no solid historical evidence of this event, it is attested to very early and has persisted through the centuries.
- The best story relating to Nicholas happened during the proceedings of the Nicene council. When Arius shared his heretical views stating that Jesus was not equal to God, Nicholas became so irritated that someone would deny the clear teaching of Scripture, he jumped up from where he was sitting and slapped Arius across the face. He was thrown in jail for the offense, but was eventually restored to his position as Bishop after the council ended.
- His feast day was celebrated on December 6. In Europe, this was the day to give gifts to others so not to obscure the worship of Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas.
For a great overview of this, see this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2004/nick.html
Have Fun - Allow your kids to have fun with the stories about Santa. Call them "games" or "tall tales" or "fun stories." Point them back to the history of St. Nick as a real person. Talk about his generosity or his courage to stand firm for the faith. But please heed this: Always Tell the Truth – If your young child asks if Santa is real, tell the truth. Do not allow them to miss out on the truth of Jesus once they discover the “truth” of Santa. Again, in our family, we often talked about the “game of Santa” or pointed them to history. We didn’t want them to miss out on the greatest joy – Jesus.
Read Luke 2 as a Family – One of my fondest memories was my grandfather gathering all of us around the Christmas tree and reading about the birth of Christ. We would all sit and listen as, once again, the incarnation was made real. My grandfather would then explain how God gave the greatest gift – Jesus. Accordingly, that is why we shared presents with one another. We would pray and then open presents. While I didn’t always get what was going on, there was a clear signal being sent by my grandfather on the priority of Jesus during this season.
Share Christ - Gear your family to use this as an important season for Evangelism. Many people can feel disconnected during this season, but you can point them to the ultimate fulfillment of every hope and the true giver of Joy in the person of Jesus Christ. We are leading our kids to invite people to our Gospel-focused Christmas Eve services and encouraging them to talk to their friends about Jesus! This is Christmas!
So what about you? Do you have thoughts about how to deal with Santa this season?
 See Chris Durston’s Fascinating article, “The Puritan War on Christmas” in History Today Vol. 35 (12) Dec. 1985. http://www.historytoday.com/chris-durston/puritan-war-christmas
John Mark Yeats