I write my posts from a personal perspective. When you read them, I am not necessarily wanting you to agree with me. Really, I am hoping that you will be prompted to ask yourself “what is true for me?” so that you can parent (or teach or coach…) with intention. Although the meaning I attach to Christmas may be different from your own, I have written this post for everyone – Christian, of another religion, spiritual but not religious and neither spiritual or religious – to get you thinking about how you bring meaning to Christmas with your children.
I try to offer my boys a simple explanation of every public holiday that we have. If it’s worth the whole country taking a day off, it’s worth explaining to them. Usually, there are starring characters – the ANZAC soldiers or the Queen, for instance. But whose story do I tell my children at Christmas time – Santa’s or Jesus’?
Those who are Christian would say Jesus. Those who are non-Christian would likely stick with Santa. But there are a whole lot of us in between. Like me. I don’t consider myself Christian. Yet “non-Christian” doesn’t describe me either. When it comes to religion, I am a member of none and a student of all. There is great wisdom to be found in many of the world’s religions but there are also aspects of each that don’t feel true to me. Although I’m not Christian, the Christmas nativity story is more than a story to me. I tell it to my children in my own way, with an emphasis on Love.
In my mind, Santa is just a creation of consumerism that I’d rather overlook but, for my boys, he’s a character of magic and happiness. I’m not going to take that away from them.
So, throughout December, we have books about both Jesus and Santa on our coffee table. I think it’s confusing for children having both stories on the go, they struggle to keep the two stories separate in their heads. “Where’s Santa?” Jake asked once when examining a nativity scene. In time, they’ll understand.
So, this is what I have been telling my boys about why we have Christmas. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. We celebrate his birthday because Jesus was an exceptional example of living from love and there is a lot we can learn from his life.
My boys know that Love reigns supreme in our house and that Jesus is one of the ultimate examples of Love. On Christmas Day, we open presents, gather together and eat special food just as we do on any other birthday. Jake is a little unsure about why we go to all this effort for someone we’ve never met and who lived two thousand years ago but he happily goes along with it.
I think most people accept Jesus at least as a historical figure, if not a spiritual one. Explaining to our children that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday is a simple and truthful way to share the reason for the occasion, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs.
I am very conscious, though, that I tell the Christmas story with my own slant, in order to bring out the message of Love and avoid ideas that don’t sit well with me. I believe it’s upto my boys to feel things out for themselves when it comes to spirituality and it’s not my role to filter everything. So we go along to our local church to attend the annual children’s Christmas service. The friendly congregation welcomes us and include Jake and Thomas in the Sunday School’s performance of the Christmas story. Mary travels down the aisle on a large stuffed toy donkey which finds its place by the manger when she arrives at the front of the church. Last year, Thomas climbed onto the donkey and rocked back and forth as if to ride it while Mary settled into her new lodgings and the congregation sang a Christmas song. “There’s always one who has to ride the donkey”, laughed the Sunday School teacher.
Even if we choose not to tell our children Jesus’ story in any way at Christmas time, we can infuse the occasion with Christmas Spirit – Love. All the usual ways that we recognise Christmas can be done so with Love. Being explicit with our children about where Love is in our Christmas traditions helps them to see it as more than a day of excessive food and gifts. For example –
In our family, we have a number of traditions for giving – service, gifts, kindness. These are to show my boys love in action. I will write about these in a future post this December.
Making contact with friends. Many of us go the extra mile to catch up with our friends in December and to send messages to those we can’t see. Last year, Jake and I made gingerbread men for him to give his friends. We talked about how our gift was a way of thanking his friends for their friendship and wishing them a happy Christmas .
Family. Many people make family the focus of Christmas. Within their own family is where children first learn about love. Our unique family traditions are rituals that bring us together in love. Whether it be gathering around the table to eat a meal with all the trimmings, spending the afternoon playing cricket in the back yard or attending a midnight church service together.
What About Santa?
Santa can’t be avoided. I try to treat him as a bit of fun on the side but I know he is larger in my boys’ heads than Jesus. I accept that. They don’t know yet that a heart full of Love is more exciting than a stocking full of presents. But they will.
I’d prefer Santa wasn’t on the scene because, as a society, we’ve taken him to the extreme and he makes our children more interested in what they will get rather than what they will give. But we have to work with what we’ve got. And we’ve got Santa. He, at least, creates an opportunity to talk with our children about how good it feels to give as well as to receive. Last year, I dug up the history of the ‘real’ St Nicholas who secretly gave gifts to needy people in order to give Santa a bit more credibility.
So, I help Jake write his letter of wishes to Santa. We listen to songs about Santa in the car. We enjoy preparing a snack for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. And, despite my own misgivings, I delight in my boys’ excitement as much as they delight in Santa. I avoid using Santa to manipulate – “Santa won’t be coming if your behaviour doesn’t improve”. I’m not going to give him more power than he deserves. He’s not the powerful one.
In Summary: Love
Of course, it’s not really an either/or question – Santa or Jesus? Both can be accommodated and celebrated to whichever extent feels right for ourselves and our families. Both can be used as characters through which to introduce the Christmas Spirit of Love to our children. (It takes a little more creativity to squeeze juice out of Santa but it can be done.) Whoever takes starring role in your hearts and the hearts of your children this Christmas, may the exchange of Love be plentiful.