So last night, while we watched another 4-5 inches of snow fall on top of the 8+ we already had, we decided to sit and watch a little Christmas TV. And what should come on but the story of Santa Claus coming to town. You know the one. Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn and Fred Astair tell us the "true" story of Santa Claus.
Personally, this is one of my favorites. I love it. The whole Burgermeister Meisterburger who hates toys, and the lengths Kris Kringle will go to get them to the kids anyway. It tries to "explain" all the little traditions that have grown up around St. Nick, right down to seals teaching him how to "Ho, Ho, Ho." Great fun.
In fact, in spite of all the secular Claus-i-ness of it, it's one of the few stories that still includes at least a nod to the real meaning of Christmas. It speaks of choosing the "holiest night of the year" to deliver those packages, calling it the "night of profound love." Not bad as far as those secular ideas go.
Anyway, the question always comes to mind after watching shows like that: what do we do with Santa? As Christian parents who want our children to understand truth without necessarily robbing them of any hint of fantasy, how do we address the jolly old elf?
Well, agree or disagree, this is how we've done it. From early on, our children have known the truth that there really was a man named Nicholas, who was actually a leader in the church. We told them some of the things he was known for, although the historical record is a bit sketchy. And though he died a long time ago, down through the years people have wanted to do nice things for others in his honor. So, we told the kids, you have someone who loves you very much, and they want to be a special "Santa" just for you.
Now, in honor of full disclosure, I must say that after laying that historical framework, we did still allow for some fantasy. Call me a bad Christian parent, but the kids still called "Santa" at his "workshop". We still allowed for the possibility of a sleigh landing on our roof and the old guy maybe coming down the chimney, though they often questioned the logic of that. But in all, we wanted them to know that this stuff was just for fun. We wanted them to know there was no magical being who lives for hundreds of years outside the realm of God's laws, while at the same time trying to preserve some of the magic and mystery of it all.
I know all the arguments. It's wrong to lie to your children about this because when they get older, they question your veracity about other things, including God. But this is why we started with the historical foundation telling them that this was the real part. And that the other stuff was just made up for fun.
And of course, we balanced that out with various ways of celebrating the Advent season. For years we used an "Advent Chain" which marked the days until Christmas with Scripture readings and hymns each night as we took a link off. This year, with most of the kids a bit older, we're doing something a little different, and idea I read about from Dr. Timothy Paul Jones from Southern Seminary. It's called a "Jesse Tree" and it marks the days by showing the centrality of Christ throughout the Scriptural record, from creation and the fall, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Ruth, etc. all the way down to the birth of Christ. (and yes I know the Catholic roots of the idea, but just because the RC church fell into heresy doesn't mean everything they every came up with is useless!)
But we still have fun with the Santa shows. We also just watched Miracle on 34th Street which is probably my favorite holiday movie. (Cheryl is partial to White Christmas, and for the record, we watched her show first!) Just part of the holiday fun and traditions.
So what do we do with Santa? Well, you may disagree with the way we've handled it. But I do think that while it's ok to enjoy a little of the fantasy, that our kids should at least know the truth (as far as we know it) about the real St. Nick. Even Veggie Tales has a somewhat respectable take on the historical guy. He seems to have been as much fun as the pretend guy. If you don't believe that, just watch this little bit, also from Dr. Jones. (also go here and read about it in historical context) Merry Christmas.