Dawn Saviidge was brought up short by a comment by a church member. Should she have bought into Father Christmas?
Have you ever made a decision as a parent and later another parent made you feel both wrong and super unspiritual for the choice that you made? That happened to me! And I can guess it has happened to you at some point too. Mine was introducing my children to both Jesus and Santa.
Christmas has always been a magical time for me. Not the commercialism and flicking through the Argos catalogue (although I did enjoy having a look through it). For me, it was a time of possibilities. The longing for snow. The thought of Christmas movies. Special Christmas plays at church and school. The hope for a peaceful house with no arguments. It was a time that my young mind held precious. Part of the Christmas magic was the possibility that we might see Santa. My sisters and I would stay up as late as we could in the hope of seeing Santa coming to our house. We would be giddy with excitement as we went to bed on Christmas Eve, listening for every creak in the house. Of course when we got older, our parents let us into the secret of Santa. I remember feeling like a part of the Christmas spirit had died with the revelation. Perhaps it was the possibilities for a peaceful and magical Christmas that left and not the truth about Santa.
So, when I had children, I decided to introduce them to Santa. Learning from my experiences as a child and my limited budget as a single parent, I was careful how I did it. ‘Santa’ only bought one present that I gave him money for. My children would wait up to see Santa. They would check his movements on the Santa app. They made lists and wrote letters to Santa, but I managed their expectations of the commercialised Christmas that the world tries to sell us, and we very much focussed on the birth of Jesus. I felt that we had a good balance between Santa and Jesus. Until one day, a man from our church berated me for even having introduced my children to Santa. I instantly felt guilty. My eldest was now ten, how could I undo ten years of the Santa story? The truth is I didn’t need to. We really did have a good balance.
So what is different between my Santa and a commercialised Santa and where does Jesus come in the list of priorities?
The developed world commercialises Christmas to its maximum. It is the greatest distraction to the ills of the world. In the early 19 century companies began to see it as a time to sell as many goods as possible. Clever marketing campaigns run as early as September, promising us that if we buy x, y, z, we will be guaranteed that perfect white Christmas that we all dream of. The children won’t fight. Our uncle won’t get drunk. Grandma will stay awake past the King’s speech. Everyone will want to play games. The commercialised Santa will buy everything on your list of wants.
The truth is stuff that you can buy will never get you that level of peace. What ends up happening is that we burn ourselves out trying to create and afford a ‘perfect’ Christmas that some white-bearded guy gets the thanks for. I have a friend who will go to great lengths to buy everything on her children’s Christmas list otherwise she is racked with guilt and filled with anxiety. What are we doing to ourselves?
I wanted to introduce Santa as a memory of my own childhood: a time when I believed in a Christmas miracle. It truly was a magical time full of family and friends. We rarely got what we wanted, but I learnt that that wasn’t important. So, my Santa was less commercialised and more of a backseat passenger in the ride, where Jesus took full up front and centre-stage, as He should.
So, if you’ve been made to feel guilty about introducing Santa, or if you want a less commercialised version and more of Jesus, some of these things might help you.
Start with the story of Jesus’s birth
This doesn’t start with the shepherds on the hill and sky full of angels. It starts with prophecies of Jesus’ birth. Isaiah 6:9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:4-6 are some of the places where people spoke about His birth. Really read the story. There weren’t three wise men, and they visited a toddler Jesus, not a baby Jesus. Tell the story in an accessible way for the age of your children. There are lots of wonderful places where you can watch a video together about the Christmas story. The Bible Society is a great place to start.
Centre your Christmas around Jesus
This means making church a priority. If you don’t currently go to church, have a look at what churches are doing during this season. Lots of churches have Christingle services, Messy Christmas, Christmas Tree festivals and carol services. When you go as a family, talk about it afterwards. What made you wonder? What did you like? What did you learn?
Don’t set high expectations
As a single parent, I am on a limited budget and so I cannot afford to buy lots of expensive gifts. Even if I was able to, I want to teach my children that happiness does not come from receiving the latest branded trainers or games machine. There are so many people that get themselves into huge amounts of debt for one day. Your children just need you. They need to know that they are loved, seen, and known. Guess what – you can do that. And Jesus can do it even better than you! In the past some of my children’s favourite presents have been a promised day out of their choice with me on their own. Spending time with your family can cost nothing at all.
Let go of guilt
Of course, we would all sell our last bean to give our children everything. We would work every extra hour. Take out another loan. But this is not the answer. As I said above, your children just need you – a whole one, not a broken, stressed-out version. You are also not responsible for how people act when they get together. You cannot create perfection. Let go of that guilt.
When the time comes
If you have told your children the Santa story and feel that this is the year that you’ll reveal the truth, consider telling them in a way that doesn’t shatter them. I look back at my childhood and joke that I was told about Santa, the Easter bunny (who has never made an appearance in our house) and periods all at once! It was that traumatic! When the time came to tell each of my children, I told them the story of St Nicholas and how Santa became world-wide famous. But I always reiterated the importance of Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas.
Whatever you do to celebrate Christmas, enjoy it. Remember, the birth of Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice means that we can have a relationship with Him, and that is such a gift that we can never afford and never afford to be without. Grace. Truth. Love.