“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” (John 3:16 NIV).
The annual visit to Santa
The most wonderful time of the year had come again. It was early December and time for the annual family visit to Santa. I spent several hours in preparation. Matching outfits for the kids were purchased and haircuts scheduled so that everyone would look perfect. My plan was not only to visit Santa, but to snap that all-important Christmas card photo too.
The kids and I scoured the internet and the multitude of catalogs that had arrived in order to come up with the perfect gift lists to present to Santa. I needed to make sure that Santa would be able to fulfill every wish, after all.
The big day came and I was giddy with excitement. Then things started going downhill.
My daughter didn’t like the dress I had picked for her, so she put a denim jacket over it and refused to take it off. Yikes. Denim didn’t match my color scheme. My oldest son attempted to stuff his foot into his dress shoes, but they had gotten too small over the past year. Oh no, I had forgotten about the shoes. He would have to wear his dirty tennis shoes.
With a bit of improvising, we all got dressed and made it to the mall. As we made our way to catch a glimpse of Santa, we noticed that we weren’t the only family hoping to see Santa that evening. At the end of the line stood a notice: “Wait time: 2 hours from this point.”
How in the world would we keep the kids entertained for two hours?
We decided that my husband would wait in line while I took the kids to snap that Christmas card photo.
Ah, the Christmas card photo. The photo that intends to capture how cute, smart, sweet, and loving our little angels are. My little angels decided that they weren’t in the mood to cooperate at that moment, and they refused to stand like toy soldiers in front of the giant mall Christmas tree.
I first tried bribing them with hot chocolate. When that didn’t work, my bribes turned to threats: “Santa can see you and he is going to put you on the naughty list if you don’t do exactly what mommy says.”
That just made my youngest son cry in distress. The Christmas card photo would have to wait.
Finally, the two hours passed and it was time to see Santa. My youngest son refused to sit on Santa’s lap because he thought he was on the naughty list. Then, my middle son asked for something off of the preapproved gift list. It was an item that I knew was sold out everywhere.
How in the world would Santa fulfill that request?
The real meaning of Christmas
The evening had turned into a complete disaster. Then I had an epiphany: This is CHRISTmas, and we have spent more time consumed with Santa and gifts than with Jesus. What message was this sending to my children?
The next day, I examined our Christmas traditions and made some quick changes. Because my children were young, they weren’t allowed to touch my fragile Italian nativity set. Therefore, I bought them their own plastic, play-figure version. They spent a lot of time throughout the month re-enacting the birth of Jesus in their own creative ways.
I also bought a family Advent devotional book that my husband and I committed to read with the kids every day. This is our favorite tradition to this day. Some days the Advent book is read at dinner and prompts lively conversation. Other days, it isn’t read until late at night when we are all finally home from our busy day. Regardless, that book gives us an opportunity to read God’s Word together and think about Jesus every single day in December.
On Christmas Eve, we switched from reading ’Twas the Night Before Christmas to reading the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible. There are multiple accounts of his birth in the gospels, but my personal favorite is Luke 2:1–20.
I felt great about adding some new traditions and shifting some old traditions in order to put the emphasis on Jesus, but what should I do about Santa?
My children were all young at the time, and the magic of Santa was alive and well in our home. How would I reconcile the secular Santa with Jesus? Then a thought hit me.
Do Santa and Jesus have to be mutually exclusive?
What I learned about Santa
After doing some research, I learned that the legend of Santa Claus actually traces back to a fellow named Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara in modern-day Turkey.
His parents were very wealthy and raised him to be a devout Christian. When Nicholas was still young, his parents died in an epidemic, leaving him a large inheritance. Remembering Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used all of his money to assist those in need.
He dedicated his life to serving God and eventually became Bishop of Myra. Bishop Nicholas became known far and wide for his generosity to those in need and his love for children. To this day, many Christians in Europe observe St. Nicholas Day on December 6 with gift-giving so that they can intentionally celebrate the Christ child on Christmas Day.
I immediately sat down at my computer and drafted a note on behalf of Santa:
Dear Zuch Children,
Merry Christmas. I’m looking forward to sliding down your chimney once again this year, and I hope you will leave my favorite chocolate chip cookies by the fireplace.
I have some nice gifts ready for you, but I want you to know something very important. There is no gift that I could ever bring that even comes close to the gift that God has given to you. He gave his son Jesus so that you can live forever. In the Bible, it says “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” (John 3:16). My gifts will eventually get old and you will tire of them, but God’s gift, Jesus, lasts forever.
When you believe in Jesus, God gives you another gift called the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a part of God that lives inside of you and is always there to guide and comfort you.
And there is yet another gift that God gives you. It’s called forgiveness. When kids get on my naughty list they risk not getting any presents for Christmas, but when they get on God’s naughty list all they have to do is say they are sorry and really mean it in their hearts and they are forgiven. They are right back on the nice list.
During this Christmas season, I want you to remember the gift that matters the most. That is God’s gift of Jesus.
Santa’s letter arrived and we read it aloud to our wide-eyed children. A few days later, I realized we were on the right track when I heard my son tell his friend, “Santa Claus is a Christian. He knows even more about Jesus than my mom does.”
My children are in their teens now, and the magic of Santa has faded in our home, but Santa still takes the time every December to write my children a letter reminding them of the real gift of Christmas.
My prayer for your family is that you will embrace some new traditions this Christmas season that put the emphasis on the greatest gift ever. Let’s use the Holy Spirit to get us into the real spirit of Christmas.