By Susan Lyttek
Other than choosing to homeschool, probably the decision we made regarding our boys’ education in one area resulted in more comments, incredulity, and irritated remarks than any other. Many people, well-meaning people, disagreed with the way we taught our sons about Christmas.
We chose to tell them the truth about Santa Claus from toddlerhood on. We also chose to tell them the truth about Jesus’ birth.
In other words, as soon as their friends told them about Santa Claus or they saw a Christmas special and asked, as soon as they had any degree of understanding, we told them about Saint Nicholas, who he was and the legends of Santa Claus. They never expected Santa to descend their chimney and knew that any presents under their tree came from friends and family. We let them watch Christmas shows with us, but always focused on the true meaning and source of Christmas celebrations, honoring the time God came to earth as a human baby.
But we never told them that Jesus was born on December 25 either.
We let them know what the Bible said about Jesus’s birth and what it didn’t say. It never said that shepherds were out watching sheep in the deep snow as in the song The First Noel. It never said that the wise men arrived on Christ’s birthday, nor did it say there were precisely three. Three gifts, yes. Three men? Only God and the original participants know. Scripture never says.
Trust me, we weren’t looking to provoke debates when we made these choices. We explicitly and frequently told the boys not to say what we had taught them about Santa. “Other kids believe in him,” we said. “It isn’t our place to change that. Just change the subject if they bring him up.” We tried to be respectful. But when we avoided mall Santas or strangers asked what my boys wanted Santa to bring them and they answered, “Santa doesn’t bring presents,” we received a lot of criticism.
We also taught them the Christmas carols and Christmas traditions about the birth of Jesus without ever emphasizing anything beyond what the Bible actually said. The thoughts and intents behind many of the songs and traditions have the love of God at their heart, so we taught them that.
We taught them about the original choice for the Christmas tree as the evergreen to represent Christ’s eternality. We taught about the lights on the tree and homes that reflect the true Light of the World.
Even people who loved us and agreed with us on many things felt that we erred at Christmas.
Or, as I heard from several concerned friends, we denied our children the possibility, the hope of a jolly red elf who made judgments about their behavior and rewarded them accordingly. We took away any chance, we were told, for them to grow up believing that dreams could come true.
We were told by explaining the truth behind the traditions and songs that we took away the mystery and mystique of the incarnation.
Obviously, we disagreed. St. Nicholas the real man, made dreams come true in the name of Jesus. As Christians, we too can make the dreams of others come true as we give and serve. That part of the Santa stories we like. In fact, my favorite Christmas clay-mation, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, focuses on the service of Santa, including him honoring the birth of Jesus.
And in spite of all the good messages and fun stories Santa can bring, isn’t remembering that Christ was born both fully God and fully man to save us from the penalty of sin the reason that we honor the holiday? Isn’t that focus and honor the reason the day becomes holy?
Susan A. J. Lyttek, author of the Talbott family mystery trilogy by Harbourlight Books, including the recent release, Plundered Christmas, writes near the nation’s capital. She enjoys teaching the next generation of writers through WriteAtHome. Find out more about her upcoming books and other projects at sajlyttek.com.