Friday, 4 December 2015

What about Santa?

What do we tell our kids about Santa? When my children were little, my husband and I had to decide what to do about Santa. In western culture Christmas is inescapably tied to the image of a rotund man in red and white.

Sadly, in mainstream western culture, children are bombarded with images of Santa everywhere you go. It’s difficult to find a nativity set displayed anywhere. Christian cards are almost non-existent in the stores, replaced by images of cute teddy bears or holly leaves and, of course, Santa. Instead of singing praises to God for the wonderful gift He gave this world, His Son, Jesus Christ, we sing “Frosty the Snowman” and “All I want for Christmas is you.” In the end, when all the pretty trappings are taken away, there is an empty box inside.

As a Christian, I always wanted to be truthful with my children about the real meaning of Christmas – that we were celebrating the birth of Christ. In a subtle way, the focus on Santa is another avenue for discrediting Christianity, for if children are told an enormous fabrication from an early age and at some stage get to the point where they realise it is not true (with great trauma in some cases) then if they have been told the truth of the gospel, why should they believe that?

So, I chose to tell my children the truth about Santa, the truth of which is quite enjoyable in itself. The truth is, when Jesus was young, wise men came from the East, carrying gifts to honour Him. That is why we give gifts at Christmas, because we honour Christ by giving (rather than getting).

Throughout the ages there have been men who have sought to honour Jesus by their kind deeds, especially by blessing the poor.  Saint Nicholas was the Christian bishop of Myra in the Byzantine Empire in the fourth century. A derivation of his name may have become part of Belgian folklore in the form of Sinterklaas, from which name, carried across the seas to America, became Santa Claus. Good King Wenceslas, immortalised in the carol, was a Duke of Bohemia in the tenth century, who was known for his Christian acts of charity to the poor.

Santa Claus then is based on a long heritage of Christian men, who did good things to bless others. When we saw Santa in the stores, I had no problem with telling my children that Santa is a man dressed up, but he is based on real men, like Saint Nicholas and Good King Wenceslas. When we see him it reminds us that there are good men everywhere who want to be kind to others in many ways. We too can celebrate the birth of Christ by being kind to others – little children, the poor and needy, animals, refugees, those in other countries who have so little, the elderly and disabled, and many others.

“In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

“Good King Wenceslas” lyrics by John Mason Neale 1853

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