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  • December 2009
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12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (2): Santa & Jesus

Have you ever thought about how difficult we make it for our children to make sense of the Christmas Story?

This is because there are two conflicting stories.

The Biblical Story of Christmas

You know the story recorded in Luke 1 & 2 and in Matthew 1, so I will not repeat it here. The following chronological outline of events in the two accounts will suffice.

  • John the Baptist’s birth announced to Zechariah
  • Jesus’ birth announced to Mary
  • Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Elizabeth’s greeting & Mary’s response
  • Mary returns to Nazareth
  • Birth of John & his father names him
  • Zechariah’s song of praise to God for sending redemption to His people, salvation coming through the house of David, and his own son’s role as forerunner
  • Joseph determines to put Mary away privately
  • An angel tells Joseph that Mary’s child is of the Holy Spirit and that He will save His people from their sins
  • Joseph & Mary’s journey to Bethlehem where they find no room at the Inn
  • Jesus is born and laid in a manger
  • Angels announce His birth to the shepherds, who then visit the newly born child
  • Joseph & Mary take Jesus to the Temple where purification is made following His birth.
  • In the Temple, Simeon and Anna recognize Him and bless Him
  • Wise Men from the East come to Jerusalem asking for the new born King of the Jews
  • Herod consults the priests about where the Messiah would be born
  • Herod sends the Wise Men to Bethlehem and the again see His star on the way
  • The star rested over the house (not the barn by now) where He was
  • The Wise Men presented their gifts
  • God warned the Wise Men to return another way without seeing Herod again
  • God warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with the Baby and Mary
  • Herod ordered the murder of all Bethlehem’s baby boys up to two years of age
  • After Herod died, Joseph brought Jesus and Mary back to Nazareth

Each of these events is important and worthy of our thoughtful consideration.

The Secular Story of Christmas

There is a vastly different story of Christmas repeated ad nauseum at this season of the year. This is a story of a jolly old elf who lives at the North Pole where he spends the year preparing gifts for all of the “nice” children. He delivers these each Christmas Eve to children all over the world. He packs them into a sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer, and gains access to houses by means of the chimney.

Our Santa Claus story comes mostly from the 1822 poem, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore. Others have built on this whimsical poem with additional Santa stories and songs until Santa today has god-like characteristics. Consider the following:

  • He is omniscient. [He sees you when you’re sleeping; He sees you when you wake. He knows if you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness’ sake!]
  • He is omnipresent. [How else could he deliver gifts to all the boys and girls in the world in a single evening.]
  • He is omnipotent. [He is able to deliver the goods for whatever children may ask of him – as in The Miracle on 34th Street.]
  • He is the ever-present judge. [He’s making a list; he’s checking it twice! Going to find out who’s naughty and nice.]
  • He is eternal. [“Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood..” – Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, Francis P. Church in The New York Sun, 1897.]

Now, adults realize that all of this is fantasy, that there is a vast difference between this and the story of Christmas as we read it in the Bible. I am not so sure, however, about the children.

There is good cause for concern for the children, as Jesus and Santa get all mixed up together. In fact, the German word kristkindle (sp?), which means Christ Child, is the origin of the name Kris Kringle. This is, as most of us know – especially if we have seen The Miracle on 34th Street, another name for Santa Claus.

Reader’s Digest [Dec 2009/Jan 2010, p. 24] has a quote from Augusten Burroughs, You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas.

As a young child I had Santa and Jesus all mixed up. I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip, but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house?

We tell children there is a Santa Claus, and they later discover it is a myth. We tell them there is an Easter Bunny, and they later discover it is a myth. We tell them there is a God who loves them and sent His Son to show us how much He loves us all, and then we wonder why they lose their faith.

Would we be better off if we dealt with our children truthfully? Yes, talk about Santa – but not in a way that allows them to mix Santa and Jesus together. You cannot ignore Santa. He is too ubiquitous at this time of the year. Just let them know that you do not really believe he lives at the North Pole and knows everything they do.

Even more important, let them see your own faith in Jesus in action. help them by reading the Biblical story of His birth – and showing them how different it is from a “fairy tale.” It is the difference between “Once upon a time, in a land far away….” and “In those days Caesar Augustus…. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David.” One is at an unidentified time in an unidentified place. The other is solidly placed at a real time with real historic people at a place we can visit should we choose to do so.

In the latest edition of his magazine, Does God Exist, John Clayton talks about the argument some atheists make: “I do not believe in God for the same reason I do not believe in Santa Claus.”

He goes on to point out the big difference between a child believing in Santa and an adult believing in God. He asks if adults come to believe in Santa as an adult. Yet, many come to faith in God as mature people. He cites the recent prominent example of Anthony Flew (the British atheist who once debated Thomas Warren but who now believes in an intelligent cause of the universe – but not the God of the Bible). We could add the even more prominent example of C. S. Lewis who was an atheist as a young man, but became a strong advocate for Biblical faith in God.

Though Santa has some god-like qualities in the myth about him, adults can easily see the difference in the Santa-story and the Christ-story. Should we try to protect our children from the Santa-myth? Probably not – as long as we make sure they understand Santa is “make-believe” while Jesus really lived, died, and rose from the dead.

Let us enjoy the Christmas season with all of its festivities. However, let us not go overboard spending money we cannot afford to give more gifts to our children than they really need. Also, let us not be afraid to put Jesus’ birth into the Christmas story in a prominent way. What better time will we have in this crazy world we live in to talk about what His coming really means to all who will believe?

Note: The day after I posted this item, Jay Guin posted this excellent article on “our” attitude toward Christmas. Check it out.

NEXT (3) – No Room at the Inn (Communion Meditation)

PREVIOUS (1) – Two Kinds of Christmas

2 Responses

  1. I would just like to point out that Santa Claus was no myth.
    He was invented by Coco Cola.
    They had a man dressed up to appeal to all people,he wasn`t very good at the start,but has you see him today he is a jolly plump man with a smile. This has got nothing to do with religion at all.

    • The actual beginning of Santa Claus (a corruption of Saint Nicholas is related as follows:

      The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

      Santa Claus is much older than Coca Cola, but I suspect you knew that and meant this comment as a spoof.

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