Christmas & Santa Claus
By David Crank
As the Christmas season approaches, so does the issue of how, or if, we should celebrate Christmas.
Reasons to Not Celebrate
Some brethren argue that Christians should not celebrate Christmas at all. Though that may seem very odd to some (i.e. Christians not wanting to celebrate the birth of Christ or participate in a holiday named for Christ), there are some pretty good reasons for this position. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever asked us to commemorate Jesusí birth. We were never told when Jesusí birthday was. The date chosen for Christmas was apparently selected because it coincided with a pagan Roman holiday (an attempt to displace the pagan holiday).
It is also noted that some Christmas traditions are from the prior pagan celebration and have nothing to do with Christ. Some also look to the New England Puritans and those coming out of the Reformation who refused to celebrate Christmas, regarding it as a pagan holiday.
Reasons to Celebrate
On the other side, are arguments that there is no Biblical prohibition against celebrating Jesusí birth. Two of the gospel writers gave us many of the details of Jesusí birth, giving us a "Christmas story" to recount and remember. Certainly Jesusí coming to earth was a great event, long prophesied beforehand, and one especially announced by God to a select few. When the focus is truly on Godís great gift and Jesusí great sacrifice - coming to earth to live and die as a man, what could be wrong with remembering these events and giving thanks to God?
The acceptance of Christmas as a national holiday also creates opportunities to reach out to others with the gospel. For example: through acts of charity, with Christmas cards containing a gospel message, by inviting folks (who otherwise wouldnít come) to church or a church Christmas presentation, and by creating more opportunities to bring up Christ in conversations with unbelievers.
Differences Over Whether to Celebrate
The Apostle Paul had to deal with differences such as these in Romans 14. Besides the issue of food, there was the issue of whether to observe certain days. Perhaps the celebrations in dispute were the Jewish festivals, or perhaps they were even secular ones in their community. In such matters it is good to remember Paulís words:
"Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lordís." - Rom 14:4-8 (NAS)
Letís each examine and consider these things and become convinced in our own minds, but letís not make them an issue of contention, nor separate from our brothers over them.If You Celebrate, How to Celebrate?
Customs, Meals, Decorations. If you do choose to celebrate Christmas, there remains the question of how to. Many customs surrounding Christmas have little or nothing to do with Jesusí birth. Some of these customs may seem good for any sort of holiday Ė such as gathering the family together and sharing a special meal. You may choose to eat traditional foods just to keep the tradition, whether they have any other significance or not. What about Christmas decorations? Again many have absolutely nothing to do with Christ. Some will choose to only include those that remind of Jesusí birth. Others will retain certain decorations merely for traditionís sake. Does the decoration take away from celebrating Christís birth by focusing us on something else? If not, does it make any difference?
Giving Gifts. Then there is the custom of giving gifts. Though the Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus, and though Jesus may be seen as Godís gift to us, these are not the reasons for giving gifts at Christmas. Yet, there is certainly nothing wrong with giving gifts to others Ė acts of selfless generosity and kindness are appropriate at any time of the year. So is there anything wrong with choosing to give gifts at Christmas? There is no Biblical command to not give to others, but Biblical wisdom might lead you to approach holiday gift giving somewhat differently than the world around you.
For most in our culture, Christmas is all about getting, not giving. The total focus of the holiday has become materialistic and commercial. People are encouraged to spend large sums of money giving gifts, whether or not the gifts are really useful or needed. It is taken to excess, especially with gifts given to oneís own children. For children especially, the focus of Christmas often becomes the gifts received Ė encouraging greed. It doesnít have to be this way, but if we follow too closely the practices of our culture, it can easily become so.
I believe we can give gifts, in moderation, while still maintaining a strong focus on Christís birth as the reason for the celebration. Some families decide that it is best not to give gifts at all to each other. Others may purposefully limit the number and/or dollar value of gifts given. Still others may limit the type of gifts, such as requiring that all gifts be things you yourself have made, or focusing on specific needed items (i.e. clothing). Families can plan their Christmas celebration in a way that emphasizes Christ and de-emphasizes gifts. Children can be encouraged to focus on giving good gifts to others rather that on receiving themselves.
Lastly, we must address the Santa Claus tradition. It seems that there was a man named Nicholas who did good deeds from which this tradition first sprang. However, the Santa Claus of today bears little resemblance to St. Nicholas and is portrayed as a super or supra human being. A great many children are told that this man is the source of many of the gifts they receive, and that in a single night, he distributes these gifts all over the world. He is somehow able to gain entrance into all homes (by chimney or otherwise), he knows just what gifts are desired by each person, and knows all about the good and bad that each child has done. (Consider this message of rewards based on "being good," rather than unmerited gifts given in love).
Santa Claus seems to have replaced Jesus as the focus of Christmas. Xmas may be a better name for the sort of holiday many celebrate in late December. If we, as Christians, choose to celebrate Christmas at all, I think it is best to make Jesus the main focus, not a fictional Santa.
We have not had "Santa" at our house. Others may accuse us of denying our children a great source of fun and excitement. Perhaps, but we believe there are more important things than such fun and excitement. Our policy has been to always speak truthfully to our children. We tell them clearly what is make believe and what is not. We do not deceive them with "fairy stories" of any kind. We make it very clear when something is fiction or fantasy, from the earliest age. So this reason alone would have been sufficient for our family not doing Santa Claus.
My Experience with
Sure, I was excited about gifts at Christmas and this guy Santa Claus really sounded neat Ė until I thought about it more, and finally learned that it wasnít true. I may have been the one-in-a-million, but I reacted very badly upon discovering I had been deceived about Santa Claus. I felt my parents had violated my trust. I depended on them to teach me about this world and to teach me truly. They had purposefully lied to me and deceived me, though with good motives.I wondered whether what I had been told about God was also a lie. Santa Claus and God were two persons I had been taught about that I had never personally seen. Santa Claus had almost god-like abilities to know all the children of the world and to somehow go to all of their homes in one night. Was God also a fairly tale made up for children?
As a child, I had increasingly struggled with the concept of Santa Claus. I totally believed because my parents said it was so Ė the same parents who had taught me not to lie. Yet things just didnít make sense! When I learned it was a lie, I felt my whole understanding of the world had been distorted and delayed by this lie. I was also so embarrassed that I had believed such a lie and that some other children had been told the truth earlier than I.
Perhaps such a reaction is exceedingly rare. Nevertheless, consider its seriousness. I was very close to throwing out both my belief in God and my belief in my own parents. If I had gone just a little further and stepped off of that cliff, I shudder to think what might have become of me.
So when I became a father, I never wanted to so damage my credibility with my children. I decided to always answer them truthfully and never to purposefully lie to them for the sake of fun or fantasy. I want them to have a true understanding of this world, never a false one. Yes, there are some evils of this world that I am not too quick to tell them details about, but neither do I hide that such evil exists (just as the Bible does not hide it). I see it as my duty, as their father, to teach them wisdom and understanding and do nothing to distort or hinder a proper understanding. They should know that they can depend on me to speak truthfully, even when all others are speaking lies.
I know others may think Santa Claus is so much fun and such a delight, that they want their children to have this experience. Iím not denying the fun and excitement of Santa. But is the fun worth the price? And what sort of excitement are we encouraging? Is it a selfish, lusting excitement Ė based on what good things I am going to get from Santa? Is this the sort of spirit and enjoyment of Christmas we truly want to engender in our children? I also think it is best when children know that their gifts are gifts of love from their own parents.Conclusion
I am not writing to condemn anyoneís celebrating or not celebrating, or celebrating in one way versus some other way. My purpose is to help you think through this issue for yourself, stepping a little outside the frame of reference of your own culture, and perhaps seeing this holiday and its traditional practices through the eyes of others who may see things very differently from you. Whatever you decide for your own family, if you celebrate the day or do not celebrate, or if you celebrate one way, but not another way, let all that you do be for the Lord and for His glory.
"The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves." - Rom 14:22(NAS)V
Volume 3 Issue 5: Septemper - December 2002, © Unless The Lord ... Magazine