Friday, December 6, 2013

The Value of Santa Claus*

Today is the feast of Nicholas, a long-revered saint in our household.  In honor of this day, we share with you this repost from the archives...

"...All created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father." ~Philippians 2:10-11, MSG~

At this time every year along with the holiday comes the passionately opinionated debate over the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus. The haters of this Christmas icon usually shake their heads in disgust at the embodiment of materialism he represents. Staunchly committing to make Christ the center of their holiday, those who despise Kris Kringle tend to think that most who allow him into their traditions have completely lost the true meaning of Christmas. This year, in our strange politically-correct society, his weight has even come under fire.

For over a decade I have been longing to share a different perspective. Both a lover of Jesus and a fan of Santa, I have thoughts to share that may not have been considered before.

Let me begin by giving historical background that helps us understand the origins of Santa Claus. His name comes from the Dutch translation (Sinterklaas) of the name Saint Nicholas. This dedicated Jesus-lover served as the 3rd or 4th century Bishop of Myra, Turkey. Since most of what is known of him comes from 8th or 9th century writings, a great deal is left to speculation and legend. Of course, one of the most common stories relating to Bishop Nicholas is that of his generous, secret gift of gold coins to provide dowries for 3 impoverished sisters. His nighttime presents surely saved the girls from the bondage of prostitution as this was the unfortunate outcome for girls unable to provide a dowry or marry in those days.

As with many pagan holidays (study Halloween and Easter), Christians sought to redeem the celebrations surrounding the winter solstice. (Read God's mandate in Ephesians 5:15-17.) Most agree that certain clues indicate that Christ was not born in December. Nevertheless, celebrating God-come-down-to-Earth in human form is an occasion most worthy of a holiday! How natural that a fervent follower of the Lord whose feast day falls near the solstice (December 6th) should be made part of the festivities. Over time, some of the old cultural legends became attached to the Christian saint and morphed into the Western character children celebrate today.

So in a world of materialism, selfishness and greed, why would we want to include Santa Claus as part of our observance of Jesus' birthday? I would contend that when children are appropriately guided by faith-filled parents, they witness a concrete caricature who teaches them much about God.

  • Santa teaches children about love and generosity.  (1 John 3:1) We love him because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19) He gives without any hope of reciprocity. 
  • Santa teaches about God's expectation of good behavior. (John 15:9-14) He also reminds children that there is One who is always aware of how they are conducting themselves. (Psalm 53:2-3)
  • Santa makes us aware that we don't always get what we ask for. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Not always delivering what is on our list or whispered in his ear, he initiates the exercise of learning that life can be quite good even if we don't always get our own way.

Through the emphasis on St. Nick's personal traits, we can help children to see that all are called to be kind even to the least of God's people and that even "The Big Guy" bows to Jesus and honors him.

While I certainly do not advocate putting Santa Claus at the center of our Christmas, I hope I've opened your eyes to how his inclusion might enhance your children's worship and understanding of their Savior. That has been the case in our home. And we gratefully stand in awe of a God so amazing that He would not only come to save us, but would let us have the presents on His birthday. How can we not be humbled and joyous about a God like that!

PRAY:  Generous God, thank You for the tangible ways You have made Your presence known to us.  Thank You for the fellowship of believers throughout history, especially those who have modeled  Your kindness and generosity for us to imitate.  Use those models to help us keep our focus on Your amazing human birth this Christmas season.

 ~ Barb Dittrich

* Originally published December 24, 2009
We further recommend the following reading materials regarding this topic: The Adventure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Whelchel and Jeannie Mooney (Hardcover - Sep 9, 2004); The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas by William J. Bennett (Oct 27, 2009)

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