Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Traditions and Christmas

Here we are again. Its December and the Christmas season is in full swing. The tree is up, the lights are on, the house smells like gingerbread and my weight is slowly climbing.

Laura and I (mostly me) love the seasonal activities more than I should. To prove how much I love the season I took a picture of my first "Christmas cup" from Starbucks back in November. You can see it here.

We love the season and we love the seasonal activities but we are a little sad that we don't have any traditions so my wife and I are investing in either an advent wreath or an advent calendar so that we can make all our celebrations truly about Christ.

We believe that a tradition is more than a ritual. Not passing judgment but in most cases celebrating Christmas eve/day with your family is a habit not a tradition. Opening gifts is a custom not a tradition. Visiting grandma and grandpa and eating the exact same meal every year is a ritual not a tradition.

A tradition is a regular activity that purposefully helps adults and children know, love, desire and treasure God in the most real sense.

Now, just having an advent wreath or calendar doesn't accomplish this but, by as a family reading scripture and lighting a candle each Sunday of advent we are continually reminded of what this season of celebration and hope is all about. Having this as the regular and repeating focal point of the celebration helps everything else to fall in order.

Laura and I are also careful not just about what we do at Christmas but what we do not do at Christmas. We believe that Santa is too much of a distraction and competing force to the true meaning of Christmas so we don't "do Santa." You're not a bad parent if you do but we can't justify it to ourselves. Our fears and objections are not abstract. I have listed the reasons why as a family we chose not to "do Santa" as well as the two big objections we get and our response to them.

Why we don't do Santa

1) Santa adds the the already overwhelming attitude of consumerism and materialism our culture throws at our children. Santa's purpose is to bring kids the gifts they want. He is the focus and highlight of the season and we aren't okay with that. If opening gifts is the highlight of Christmas we have failed our children. Our God is a cultivator of new things not a consumer of created things. We don't celebrate him buying stuff.

2) Santa isn't real. Everybody likes fairytales and fiction but no one asks you to actually believe they are true. First of all, if I ask my kids to believe this fairytale and then they find out it isn't true there will be anger and distrust or at best, disappointment that I caused. Second, we don't really ask our children to believe in the boogieman, the Easter bunny, or leprechauns so why is Santa so important?

3) If we celebrate Christmas with Santa and elves as well as the nativity and maggai we are postponing our kids ability to understand the truth of what God has done. I heard a great quote to this effect: "Its very difficult for children to sort through the marble cake of part reality and part imagination to find the crumbs of truth." We want our children to understand God as much as possible at whatever age, we should try and avoid what could distort this understanding.

4) For an uncritical and easily convinced child Santa must be confusing. He is so much like what our kids are being taught at home and church that God is like all year long. Look at his attributes:
  • Omniscient - See all that you do
  • Omnipresent - or can be everywhere in one night
  • Answers sincere petitions
  • Gives you good gifts
  • Rewards good behavior
  • Famous "guy in the sky"
The point is to a child the characteristics of Santa seem very similar to the characteristics of God and they may not be able to make the distinction between God-attributes and Santa-attributes. Suddenly the child thinks God judges us and blesses us based on our performance rather than out of the grace we have through the glorification of Christ at his death and resurrection.

Common Objections

1) But Zach, Santa is good for kid's imaginative development. I agree that Santa-like figures may have the ability to make a child's imagination run wild with fantastic ideas and adventures. This is great. My question to you would be: what's wrong with my kids imagination the rest of the year? We don't talk about Santa any time during the year except December. (If you are the exception to that statement then you are probably using Santa as a bargaining tool to get your kids to behave and that is just wrong.) All year long children play with imaginary friends and dream up awesome adventures. They don't loose this ability because its Christmas.

2) But Zach, Santa represents love you say again with growing disdain. Perhaps this is true if that's what you have taught your children but couldn't we simply explain that God is love and he became flesh to prove it? And couldn't we say that we give gifts to show others how much we love them and to reflect that same love? Don't tell me explaining how a fat guy with reindeer can go to every house in the world in a single day is easier than telling your kids simply God loves us and this is one way we celebrate.

3) But Zach, don't you know the real story of "Santa" or "St. Nick"? I know the story of St. Nicholas and that's great but he is no longer the Santa that "visits" your children, he hasn't been for a very long time. Your children's Santa is a rewarder of works with high priced gadgets and gizmos that make them either boast to their friends about what they got or be disappointed it wasn't enough. The latter was my reaction until I out grew Santa. If Santa could give me what ever I wanted, why didn't he? Was I not good enough? Did he not like me? Knowing that my parents are the ones that buy gifts makes my expectations much more reasonable. I know my parents love me, they show me all year long, but I also know that money doesn't grow on trees because they tell me all year long.

I hope you establish some awesome traditions with your family and friends.


Jason said...

I never really have given it much thought as far as raising kids to believe or not to believe in Santa; probably because I don't have any kids yet nor am I married. Definitely something that I'll be discussing with my soon-to-be-wife.

I really liked your distinction between tradition and ritual and the impact it makes on the individual participating in the act.


Derek Hamaker said...

You know I'm with you on a lot of things, and this one too for the most part. But I think you have drawn a line in the sand that has yet to have a major wind blow. Unless you keep your kids in a bubble, they will hear about Santa. They will know the concept and who Santa is. They will see Santa. If you go to the mall with them, they will likely want to sit on Santa's lap (even if he does, then, scare them).
We talk about Santa and Hannah loves seeing Santa and talking to and about him (but not too close - see above). But we won't do gifts FROM Santa.
Our focus will definitely be around Jesus - and it already is. But I am not going to think that I can keep Santa out of our house, metaphorically speaking, of course.
I don't necessarily think you are saying this, but people take a stand against Santa and go all out. That seems a bit over the top if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Zack,I agree with Derek.Ellie will get fun out of seeing him as she gets older.You don't have to do presents.I enjoy Santas around the house and I'm 68.Nope not a one of them have brought me anything any more than the turkey setting around for looks.But I am still a child at heart and love decorations.Yes you were a good boy and I thought you got a lot.Maw

Anonymous said...

Zach,Iknew your mother when you and your brother were little and I know for a fact that she loved you very much I also know being a single parent myself is the hardest job in the world I also know that she always tried hard to give you and Justin the same all year round not just at christmas she's a good woman I just wish more women could be more like her she lost your brother and now is fighting for life she gave you and justin every thing she had and now she is paying the price but no Zach you were never bad and yes you were liked by santa. May God be with you and your family this year and the next. A friend of your mother's P.S. but just remember that parents are santa so you see Zach there realy is a santa.

Zack said...

I'm with you on this one!

In addition to all your reasoning, I would add that Santa is at least somewhat a Jesus figure.

He's larger than life, inherently good, and known around the world (for the most part -- other cultures have their own version but...)

But Santa comes bringing gifts for the good kids, and coal for the bad ones. He judges based on works and your 'bounty' is a sign of how well you've done.

This is the opposite of grace.

To Derek's point, I think that after a certain age (when your kid is old enough to understand what you tell them) you can enjoy some of the santa-related traditions but without buying into the whole thing.

In fact, every time santa comes up, you can remind your kid the main difference between Santa and Jesus.

Santa is an opportunity to talk about Jesus!

josh said...

I don't think you have to act like Santa doesn't exist; in fact I think it's foolish to do so. But you don't have to give gifts from Santa and let your kid believe the myths. You can explain he did live, and did give gifts to kids, and that a lot of families still give gifts in the tradition of Santa.

I just dread the day I get a phone call from the school because 6 kids are bawling their eyes out after Andrew told them Santa wasn't real.

Anonymous said...

I personally worship Jesus everyday. I don't worsip him any less on Christmas Day. Having a child believe in Santa till they are 8 or 9 is not a big deal. If they ever ask me if Santa is real I will not lie to them, but really?? I hope your kids don't ruin Santa for my kids.

Anonymous said...

Contd from before. I also hope your kids don't judge my kids for believing in Santa. Also why is having a Christmas day lunch a ritual and not tradition. A ritual is the prescribed procedure for conducting religious ceremonies Having lunch on Christmas Day with grandma and grandpa does not seem very religious to me. Just saying.

What is your take on Disney princess movies and how they may influence your daughters perception on romance and true love?