A couple weeks ago, I was at a local store and needed something from the Christmas section. We walked up and down all 4 aisles of Christmas decor. Amidst TONS of wrapping and ribbons and singing Snowmen and Santa faces, sat a lonely nativity. One small thing reflecting the true meaning of Christmas amidst a plethora of junk representing what Christmas has become in our nation. It makes my heart sad. This is what my kids are growing up surrounded with. We are not okay with that.
Collin and I have discussed how we would celebrate Christmas as a family before we even married. I have always loved Christmas and put so much thought into decorations and activities. I love the lights and the traditions and foods...it's my favorite time of the year! A few years ago I read a book called Treasuring God in our Traditions by Noel Piper (John Piper's wife). It has shaped the way I long to worship God through our traditions and caused me to really think about what and why we celebrate. Since then, Collin and I have been discussing and tossing around ideas about how to "do" Christmas in our home. Above all, we want Christ to be honored. We want the real meaning of Christmas to come alive in the hearts of our children. We believe that the true magic of Christmas is exciting all on its own. So here's what that's going to look like lived out in our home.
The Santa Situation
Let me start off by tackling a doozy. It seems that so many people have such strong opinions regarding Santa Claus. Please hear me when I say that we have nothing against Santa. And that jolly fat man is everywhere so there's no point in trying to hide him from our kids. Nor do we want to! The truth is that the real person of Saint Nicholas was a wealthy boy who was raised to love and fear the Lord. At a young age his parents died leaving him an orphan. He used his inheritance to give to the poor and needy, offering hope and joy in the good name of Christ. He became well-known throughout the lands for his generosity. I love the true story of St. Nicholas. And that is what we tell our kids. Before you gasp and decide we are crazy and depriving our children, hear me out. We tell our kids who Santa was (the Veggie Tales St. Nicholas movie helps with that) and talk about how he gave to people in need because he loved the Lord. We don't focus on the big fat man with a beard who comes down the chimney to bring gifts. Instead, we focus on why St. Nicholas gave in the first place - because Christ has done so much for him that his heart was overflowing with thankfulness.
We explain that Santa is a character based on his life but that one is real and one is pretend. This isn't a strange concept for them as they are surrounded by Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Spider-Man. This is the first year that we have had to have that conversation with Cayden. In years past, we never set up the idea that Santa would be coming to our home. He had read books with Santa in them and seen movies with him in them but he never anticipated him coming to our home because we never prepared him for that. All year long - and especially in December - Jesus is the one that we are preparing for and choosing to focus on - not Santa. Most parents promote their children's belief in Santa or even prompt their children with things like, "Be good or Santa won't bring you anything for Christmas" which creates the expectation that Santa is coming to bring them gifts. Our kids have no idea that he was even "supposed" to come to our house. Kyla Brooke still doesn't really get it. She sees Santa around and talks about him but she just says that he is "a very nice man". We tell her who he really was but it's hard to know how much she is actually absorbing at this age. Cayden is in Pre-K this year so he is surrounded by kids at school who are excited about Santa and I'm sure over the next few weeks at school he will be inundated with "Santa" talk. We wanted him to be prepared and to make sure that he didn't spill the beans to any of his friends - you just never know what might come out of their mouths! We explain that some kids believe that Santa is real and that it's their mom and dad's job to discuss with them the truth about Santa. In other words - KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!
I randomly happened upon a blog a couple of years ago (I cannot find it now!) and I loved it so much that I copied it and held onto it. Here is some of what she had to say about how they do Christmas relating to how they handle Santa.
There is so much about the Christmas story...so many absolutely true things from scripture...so many good, wondrous, mysterious, life-impacting, miraculous thoughts about Christmas right out of the Bible that we want to ingrain in the minds of our children during the holiday season that we simply don't have time to care about Santa, and quite frankly...the idea of Santa seems small and pales in comparison to everything else we want to bring to life for our children this Christmas.
We want their holiday season to be filled with longing...excitement and anticipation as we remember what it must have been like for the people of Israel to wait for the promised Messiah. We want to focus their hearts and minds on the fact that we are still waiting...right now, longing for the return of our King. He's coming back again!
We want the Christmas story and characters to come to life for them in all of its richness...the wise men, the shepherds...Mary, Joseph...the prophecies that were fulfilled, every last one of them and point them towards a faithful God who keeps His promises. He said He would come the first time and Christmas teaches us that God is faithful. Which means...He is going to come again.
We want to dive into scripture this month and learn about God's character...his love...his servant heart, and then ask the Lord to help us be more like Him.
A million incredible truths...so little time.
To be honest, we feel overwhelmed with how many truths we want to pass down to our kids (year round) but also every December. Trying to add in something like Santa seems silly to us. As a teacher, I find it harder to justify Santa. Our goal is to communicate to our kids during Christmas why we celebrate this holiday...what its true meaning is. As a teacher when I'm teaching anything else, I want my kids to succeed...to learn. I would never try to teach them something complex and add in elements that were not true, or distracted them from the real things I wanted them to know. I wouldn't waste time teaching them things that I was claiming were "unimportant" when there are important things that do need to be taught and taught well in order for them to grasp what I'm trying to teach.
We don't "do the Santa thing" but what I hope we are doing is creating memories in our children's hearts. I pray December is a special time for them that is filled with truth, family, friends...sitting around the fire listening to true stories of mystery, wonder, goodness and grace. I pray they look back and remember our home filled with friends, families, neighbors...light and life.
I pray they remember times in front of the fire, or snuggled up on the couch as we listen to the very breath of God read in our living room.
In determining how Christmas would look in our home, we researched people older and wiser than us, who have older children and have been where we are now. Another blog that we came across was Jen Hatmaker's (have I ever mentioned how much I like her?!). She wrote a post titled The Christmas Conundrum where she writes much more eloquently (and hilariously I might add) about this very topic. You can read her entire post here (and I totally think you should) but here is an excerpt that I found especially meaningful.
There is no fake benefactor this year my kids can petition to get more stuff. Because honestly? For a five-year-old, how can Jesus compete with Santa? Our children don't have spiritual perspective; when faced with the choice of allegience, they have a baby in a manger, or they can get a jolly, twinkling, flying character who will bring them presents. This is going to be an easy choice for them. My friend Andrew, who identifies himself as a member of the "non-believer corner" put it this way:
I always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me, but when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache.
As importantly, it sets this tone for Christmas: Be good and you'll get stuff, which becomes so deeply seeded, undoing that position is almost impossible. When we teach our children to understand Christmas through this lens, then tell them at nine-years-old: "Never mind! It's all fake! Oh, and stop being so selfish because Christmas is about Jesus"...we shouldn't be surprised when our kids stage a mutiny and ask to move in with Grandma. Young parents, this is so much easier to do right the first time rather than try to undo later. Give your kids the gift of a Christmas obsessed with Jesus - and no other - when they are little, and it will be their truth all their lives.
Please do not take any of this to mean that we are judging you if you choose to do the Santa thing. This is just our personal decision for our family. By all means, put out your cookies and carrots and make your fake footprints around your fireplace - there is no judgment from us at all! Don't be afraid to invite us over for fear that we will frown at your Santa macrame hanging on the wall. It ain't gonna happen. We even have Santa in a few spots in our home. We aren't trying to avoid him - we are just choosing to focus on Jesus who we believe is the reason for Christmas. We are simply choosing to use Santa as another way to point back to Jesus. Every time we see Santa somewhere, we talk to the kids about who Saint Nicholas really was and why he gave to others. He's not what Christmas is about - he is a symbol of the season and that's how we view him.
Here is what we are doing in our home to celebrate Jesus this Season:
1- At dinner every night, we pray for the people who we received Christmas cards from that day.
2- We are celebrating Advent as a family. Advent is the four week period (starting tomorrow!) of expectant waiting and preparation of Christ's coming. It includes both His coming as a baby and His second glorious coming that we are anxiously awaiting! Here is what it looks like for our family with our 4 (almost 5) year old and our 2 year old. Every night, after bath time when the kids are in jammies and almost ready for bed, we will gather in the family room:
We start out with only the light of the Christmas tree, trying to shut out the chaos around us, and focus on what truly matters.
We pray asking God to prepare our hearts for worship and ask Him to give us hearts that truly long for His coming back to get us!
Next, we pull out our daily reading from our Advent calendar. My best friend Larissa and I saved up our toilet paper rolls a few years ago, got our craft supplies together, and made these babies. We found the idea online somewhere (sorry I don't remember where!).
We read the verses from that day. We start out with just a few verses and every night we add to the story. The kids enjoy the repetition and it helps it to really sink in. As we read the story, the kids act it out with their Little People nativity set. The kids love this set and play with it all the time. Sometimes they even nicely share Baby Jesus. Small victories.
If you decide early in the Advent season where your gift is going, you can be praying for the recipient throughout the season. Your prayer becomes an added gift to the family with special needs, the Christian relief agency, the local ministry, the missionary, or whomever you have chosen.
Money isn’t the only thing we can give, but for the moment, let’s think about financial gifts. How might you decide on the amount? One possibility is to determine what percentage of your total gift expenditures will be set aside for Jesus. Another is to give him your December coffee break money or some other regular expenditure.
What about our children? Some years I have offered “wages” for special jobs or even for regular chores during December, with the understanding that this money is being earned for Jesus’ gift.
The children at our house have had a simple drawstring bag—a shepherd’s pouch, we call it—in which to collect Jesus’ gift throughout December. On Christmas Eve, during a special family worship time, the children lay their pouches beside the manger of our special nativity scene. We speak to them then of giving their gifts to Jesus, as the shepherds came, giving Jesus worship and wonder.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. . . . And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ( L u k e 2 : 1 5 - 2 0 )
I'm excited to be incorporating this into our worship and celebration this year. I have been looking through the Compassion International Catalog and the Gospel for Asia Catalog, excited about what the kids might choose to buy to bless someone. Our prayer is that the Lord will grow in the hearts of our children a sense of giving back to others what He has so graciously blessed us with.
Just as Jen Hatmaker says in her blog, "I so want my kids to marvel that Jesus came, just like God said he would, and he split history in two, forever transforming the concepts of hope and peace and salvation." We want Christ to be honored in our home everyday, and especially at Christmas. I would LOVE to hear how you are choosing to celebrate our Savior's birth and bring the truth of Christmas to life in your home. I think we can grow and learn so much from one another so please feel free to shoot me an email and we can bounce ideas off one another!