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Christmas is What We Make It (Part 3: Santa, Yah or Nay?)

Santa Claus…yah or nay?

Is it Christian to celebrate Santa Claus?  Is Santa Claus stealing CHRISTmas from Christ?  Isn’t Santa the embodiment of materialism?

These are question Christian parents face every Christmas season.  I know I struggled with them as well when my children were little.  Our children did believe in Santa, and, yes, I felt guilty.  I felt somewhat less of a Christian.  If I had to do it all over again, would I still allow my children to believe?

For me, it came down to this one question:

Is there a way to celebrate the myth of Santa Claus that does not promote materialism and overshadow the true reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ?

It is my belief, that it is possible to use the myth of Santa to further promote Jesus.  This answer may surprise some, but please hear me out.

If you choose to include Santa in your Christmas, it is extremely important your children know how the legend of Santa Claus came about.  They need to know the myth of Santa is based on a real person, St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas was a man who loved Jesus, and tried to be Christ-like by using his wealth to help those in need.  (To get more of the history of St. Nicholas, please click here.)  Despite various fabrications and non-truths that have been added to the St. Nicholas story, his remains a life embodied by the Christian values of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness.

Yes, even the Santa Claus we know today embodies the same values.

It took an exhausting day in Kindergarten for me to see the “Christ-factor” in Santa Claus.

Some good, kind hearted person made many teachers a “Santa Cam,” an ornament necklace made to look like a camera, for many of the teachers.  You let the kids know that “Santa is watching,” to encourage good behavior.  Let me just say, the kids didn’t seem to care who was watching (and I’ll leave that right there).  As the day progressed, I thought to myself, “It is a shame we tell the kids that Santa only brings toys to the good boys and girls because some of these kids will get toys and think that they were good.”   Right then and there my mind was made up to encourage my kids not to use Santa with their own families.  Well, that was until something pinged my heart:

Grace, Missy, Grace.  (Yep, there is that word again.)

My reaction:  They don’t deserve grace……..oh, wait, I get it.  Our salvation is not about our works and how we behave (so even naughty children get grace), it is about our belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ.

My Aha Moment:  We can make Christmas what we want it to be; we can make Santa about Christ.  Santa brings presents to kids who have not been perfect all year; Santa brings presents to the deserving and undeserving.   Please do not be mistaken, Santa should not be the center of your Christmas; however, if you do choose to participate, there is a way to point the way to Christ.

Some have a hard time with telling their children a lie and worry it will somehow cause them to doubt the existence of God.  I can understand and sympathize with these parents as one of my children took the news of “no Santa” really hard.  However, I read an article in Christianity Today that gave me a new prospective:

  1. S. Lewis, one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century, dedicated the Chronicles of Narnia to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield. In the dedication, he noted that “girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales …. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Many of us have grown too old for fairy tales, yet not matured enough to understand them as adults. And we steal something precious from our children when we deny them the opportunity to believe in fairy tales, and to learn how to glean truth from a made-up story. To believe, for a little while, allows them to later understand symbolism and metaphor. And as growing children question the veracity of the story, let them research the stories and real people (like St. Nicholas) whom the myth is based on. They can compare and contrast Jesus and St. Nick.

Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who brought us the best gift of all: eternal life. And certainly, we need to tell our children first and foremost that Christmas celebrates the Son of God arriving to earth (Our family even baked him a birthday cake!). But other Christmas traditions—from the tree to the turkey dinner to Santa—can also enrich and bless a family’s holiday. By using a myth of a loving person who brings you a gift you did not earn, we allow them to experience a parable they can understand when they grow older. They will learn about all generosity by being the recipient of generosity.

 

Lewis (who, by the way, included Father Christmas in one of his Narnia books) often corresponded with readers. One youngster, 9-year-old Laurence Krieg, confessed to his mother that he might love Aslan the Lion more than he loved Jesus, and felt guilty about this. His mother wrote to the publisher, and Lewis himself responded in less than two weeks.

“Tell Laurence from me, with my love,” Lewis wrote, ” … [He] can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before … I don’t think he need be bothered at all.”

Lewis’s answer is brilliant. God made our imaginations and hardwired us to connect deeply with stories. Jesus himself appealed to people’s imagination by telling parables—stories that communicated profound truths. Even if stories are fairy tales, and therefore not empirically true, they still communicate truth. Smart parents will use the Santa myth to teach their children to be giving rather than demanding, and to experience generosity and grace.

Let me be clear, we should not teach our kids that their Christmas lists are lists of demands and center our Christmas around Santa.  We also need to be careful not to use Santa as a way to manipulate their behavior (guilty).  That being said, allowing our children to embrace Santa can lead to an experience of grace.  As they grow older, we can use that particular grace to show them what it means to give and receive grace.  This will give them a firsthand experience.  Rather than replace their imaginations with cold hard facts, embrace their imaginations with tales of a Father Christmas who gives without expecting anything in return, who loves children, and brings you a gift (yes, I said gift and not gifts…..it will help control the “wish list.”).

Ultimately the decision is personal for each family.  Right or wrong?  It is not up for me to decide.  All I am saying is that you can use Santa to bring glory to God.  If you choose to allow your children to believe in Santa, use him to point the way to Christ.  Focus on the real story behind Santa than the commercialized version we know today.  We do not have to buy into the world’s slant of Christmas for our children to experience the awesomeness of the season.  After all, Christmas is what we make it.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,

Missy Baroff

 

 

Christmas is What We Make It (Part 2: Gift-giving)

Are you feeling like there is too much consumerism in Christmas?  Are you worried Christmas has become too much about the presents and not enough about Jesus?  If so, you are not alone.

Let me first start out by saying, once again, Christmas is what we make it.  Yes, Christmas has been overrun with consumerism and the like, but it does not have to be that way for our families.  We can celebrate the birth of Jesus and still have our Christmas trees and presents…yes, I said presents.

Why do we give gifts at Christmas?

One of the reasons Christians started giving gifts at Christmas time was to remember the gifts the Three Wise Men gave Jesus.

Those gifts were:

 Frankincense: a perfume used in Jewish worship.  As a gift, it showed that the                    world would one day all worship Jesus;

Gold: a gift for kings, fitting for the King of Kings;

Myrrh: a perfume used to make dead bodies smell better.  As a gift, it showed that Jesus would one day suffer and die.

Now that I am older and in a different place in my walk with our Lord, I have gotten a new perspective on gift-giving.  In most cases, I look to find a gift that honors that person.  I try to find or make something I know will mean something to do them.  I will admit I do not like lists.  I don’t like it when family members or friends give each other a few items to choose from.  I think it means more and honors someone when you find that one special gift.  Now that being said, there are exceptions.  For me, it is my little nephews (1 &3).  Having three girls, I do not know much about boys.  I have to ask for parental help.  Furthermore, at their ages, I tend to look just for gifts that will make them happy.  As they grow older, I will go deeper into meaningful gifts.

So, if we are celebrating Jesus’ birthday, why are we the ones getting gifts?  I would say that the main reason we give gifts at Christmas is to emulate God.  After all, God gave us the greatest gift, Jesus Christ.

JOHN 3:16-17 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

We should be emulating God all year, however, this Christmas season should magnify such actions.  Yes, it is perfectly fine to give gifts and honor our loved ones, but we can’t forget about the lost, widowed, orphaned, and hungry.  What better gift to Jesus, the birthday boy, to honor the least of these?

MATTHEW 25:40 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION)

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Brothers and sister, please hear me out.  It is a testimony to our faith in how we help the less fortunate.  Yes, there are many organizations out there helping during this season, but I want to encourage you to look for those who may have fallen through the cracks.  Look for people Christ puts in your path.  I encourage us to take a step of faith, step out of the boat, and be the hands and feet of Christ this Christmas season.

Join us next time as we discuss Santa Claus….should we or should we not.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,

Missy Baroff

 

 

 

Christmas is What We Make It (Part One: The Christmas Tree)

It is that time of year…you know, the most wonderful time of the year!   Houses and trees are adorned with lights and festive decorations.  Did I mention the presents, and, of course, the SHOPPING?  There will be parties, laughter, and music…Santa Clauses….mangers….special church services.  But, this time of year also brings sadness, conflict, and questions.

Questions such as:

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

How should Christians celebrate Christmas?

Much like many areas of Christianity, Christmas has become very “worldly,” with consumerism and paganism running rampant.  So much so that many believers now dislike the season and are refusing to participate.

While these concerns are legitimate, I have come to this conclusion:

Christmas is what we make it.

We can make it about Christ or we can make it about presents…Santa Claus….food….family, or whatever.  (Yes, for Christians, Christmas should automatically be about Christ, we should not have to make it anything….I get it..but, sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.) Furthermore, it is my belief that the problem lies with us, Christians, and not the world.

Say what?

Yes, I believe the problem is that we, Christians, no longer know our Christian traditions and symbolism.  We have bought the world’s lie that Christmas really is a pagan holiday.  We have failed to educate ourselves and our children.  We have gotten wrapped up in the worldly Christmas and not the Christian Christmas.  I am guilty of this as well.  It wasn’t until two or three years ago that I realized that while some of our Christmas practices stem from the pagans, there really is a Christ-centered theme for most of all Christmas traditions, practices, and symbols.

Therefore, today and next week, I thought it would fun, helpful, and educational to examine some of the most common Christmas traditions so that we can use this season to best glorify Christ and not feel guilty about it at all.

The Christmas Tree

There are many questions, myths, and confusion regarding the origin of the modern Christmas tree. Truthfully, I don’t think any of the proposed answers or histories are 100% correct.  I will say that it is likely that early Christians did adopt some of the pagan’s winter solstice celebrations into our own traditions, including the Christmas tree.  Now, that being said, any connection to the pagans was lost long, long ago.   Unbeknownst to many of us, we have adopted my pagan beliefs into our society, such as the days of the week (Saturn Day, Sun Day, Moon Day).  Does this mean we use the days of the week to worship pagan gods?  Of course not!  God can and will use anything for His glory.

Genesis 50:20 (NKJ): 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

The Christian History of the Christmas Tree

The evergreen tree was an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their houses in wintertime.

But by the early Middle Ages, the legend had grown that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green. At the same time, Christian missionaries preaching to Germanic and Slavic peoples were taking a more lenient approach to cultural practices—such as evergreen trees. These missionaries believed that the Incarnation proclaimed Christ’s lordship over those natural symbols that had previously been used for the worship of pagan gods. Not only individual human beings, but cultures, symbols, and traditions could be converted.

Of course, this did not mean that the worship of pagan gods themselves was tolerated. According to one legend, the eighth-century missionary Boniface, after cutting down an oak tree sacred to the pagan god Thor (and used for human sacrifice), pointed to a nearby fir tree instead as a symbol of the love and mercy of God.

Paradise trees

Not until the Renaissance are there clear records of trees being used as a symbol of Christmas—beginning in Latvia in 1510 and Strasbourg in 1521. Legend credits the Protestant reformer Martin Luther with inventing the Christmas tree, but the story has little historical basis.

The most likely theory is that Christmas trees started with medieval plays. Dramas depicting biblical themes began as part of the church’s worship, but by the late Middle Ages, they had become rowdy, imaginative performances dominated by laypeople and taking place in the open air. The plays celebrating the Nativity were linked to the story of creation—in part because Christmas Eve was also considered the feast day of Adam and Eve. Thus, as part of the play for that day, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit.

These plays were banned in many places in the 16th century, and people perhaps began to set up “paradise trees” in their homes to compensate for the public celebration they could no longer enjoy. The earliest Christmas trees (or evergreen branches) used in homes were referred to as “paradises.” They were often hung with round pastry wafers symbolizing the Eucharist, which developed into the cookie ornaments decorating German Christmas trees today.

The custom gained popularity throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, against the protests of some clergy. Lutheran minister Johann von Dannhauer, for instance, complained that the symbol distracted people from the true evergreen tree, Jesus Christ. But this did not stop many churches from setting up Christmas trees inside the sanctuary. Alongside the tree often stood wooden “pyramids”—stacks of shelves bearing candles, sometimes one for each family member. Eventually these pyramids of candles were placed on the tree, the ancestors of our modern Christmas tree lights and ornaments. (Christianity Today)

How does the Christmas Tree Symbolize Jesus?

It represents the Paradise Tree(see above), which reminds us of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace.  Jesus came to restore us back into grace and reconcile us with God.

It represents the cross.  This one may be confusing and some argue it is a stretch, but I happen to think it is great symbolism.

 In the Old Testament, Messiah is viewed prophetically in terms that relate to a tree.

(1) He is portrayed as a shoot or branch which would grow out of the cut down stump of the house of David (Isa. 11:1). Isaiah 11:1 reads, “ A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

(2) He is also seen as “the Branch of the Lord,” as “the Righteous Branch,” and as “God’s Servant, the Branch” whom God would raise up on the human scene to give righteousness and life to the nation, and to all who would believe in Him. This is declared to be the work of God’s doing, not man’s (Isa. 4:2f; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15-16; Zech. 3:8; 6:12).

From these passages in both the Old and New Testaments, we see that God has His own Christmas tree in the person of His Son and in His Son’s work or death on a tree, the cross. But note, God’s tree is not decorated with lights and ornaments or tinsel, nor surrounded underneath with gifts or presents filled with perishable items purchased from our vain manner of life. Rather, under God’s tree are imperishable gifts of infinite value which were purchased by the death of God’s Son on God’s tree, the Cross. (Bible.org)

Furthermore, Jesus died on a cross made of wood.  Where do we get wood…tress of course!   Acts. 5:30; 20:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1Pet. 2:24.

It symbolizes our salvation.  Christmas trees are Evergreen Trees, meaning they are ever green…always green.  This symbolizes our salvation and the work of the cross…Jesus’ work.

Interesting stuff huh?  Good news…more is on the way.  Join us next week as we take a look at gift giving, Santa Claus, and much more.

In the meantime, I encourage us all today to enjoy this time of year without guilt and with great joy.  Let us take advantage of the season to focus on Christ, bring glory to God, and share the love with Jesus to others.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,

Missy Baroff

 

 

 

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