With Christmas only seven weeks away I’m finding myself wanting to Christmas decorate already. And even though we had temperatures in the high 60s this week, I still wanted to put away my fall decorations and pull out the Christmas lights. Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
A couple of years ago, when my oldest son was five, I decided to try and make Christmas more meaningful for him. I wanted him to hear truths, see & meet the needs of others and celebrate all the joy and fun of the season with his eyes on Jesus. One of the first things I did that Christmas was sit on the couch by the lit-up, decorated tree and read him the story of Saint Nicholas… a persevering, persecuted Christian and a mighty defender of the faith. It is told that Saint Nicholas was a generous, selfless man, caring about the needs of others, particularly children. The story I read to my son was one of a man who loved God first and saw & met the needs of others. It’s one of a man who stood up for his faith despite persecution and judgment from others. One of a hero. And my son relished in this story. He was intrigued by this man, Saint Nicholas. And at the end, he asked….
“So the real “Santa” is in heaven then?”
Silence. Son staring expectantly for an answer.
In my mind, I very quickly surveyed the situation. Did I just make it clear that the “Ho, Ho, Ho” Santa isn’t real? Did I just blow it for my son and all the Christmas magic around the gift-giving Santa Claus, a.k.a. Mom & Dad? Oh dear. What’d I do?
Again my son asked, “So Santa Claus isn’t real?”
Deep breath. “Well, honey, I think you’re right. The real “Santa” is in heaven.” From there we went on to talk about how the jolly old St. Nick is in remembrance of Saint Nicholas, and how we want to live generously, seeing the needs of others and meeting them, living a life in obedience to God and being brave in our faith. At the time, he didn’t totally get all of this, so we’ve revisited it since. And we’ll revisit it again this Christmas, hopefully over and over again. My son quickly learned that day sitting on the couch that mom and dad purchase the gifts that go underneath the tree, but that there’s so much more behind the man in the red suit. Now don’t get me wrong, we didn’t squash Santa. He’s very much a part of our Christmases. He sits in multiple places in our home at Christmastime and brings a smile to the faces of my children. My oldest has two younger brothers that aren’t quite ready to hear about the man behind the red suit. But soon. So for now we pretend and we enjoy the joy that even Santa can bring. But my son and I smile knowingly at each other in the presence of my younger two… because we know. And because of this, it’s opened up doors of important lesson-learning conversations.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson since that day. I didn’t ruin Christmas for my son. I didn’t blow it. My son didn’t storm off the couch in disappointment and anger because Kris Kringle doesn’t really come down our chimney. And yes, he even asked if it’s mom and dad who eat the cookies and drink the milk. But after that, when friends would ask if my son still believes in Santa, I would answer with… “Well, a couple years ago I made the mistake of telling him the story of the real Saint Nicholas…” Hold on a second. Why was I saying it was a mistake telling him? He heard a valuable truth that day. And looking back I now see that it was no mistake at all. Now I’m not saying every parent should sit down with their child and tell them that the big-bellied Santa isn’t real. But what I am saying is that Christian parents should be okay with revealing truths to their children, because some really cool things can happen when we do.
Jesus is very much the reason for the season in our home… but even Santa can point us to Him. The decorations, the baking, the tree, the lights, the Christmas parties, the gifts, the food (oh my, the food!), and all of the traditions we hold dear or that we’re making in our own families can reflect the love of Christ during the Christmas season. So this year I’m headed back to the couch with my son, who is now seven. And we’re going to re-tell the story of this hero of the faith, learning from his bravery and generosity. And you know what? After that we’re going to read The Night Before Christmas.