A few years ago we decided that we wanted to focus on Advent together as a family. It's a decision that I'm really glad we made. It takes work and lots of patience, especially with young kids. But I'm always thankful that our focus is on Christ's birth and the big, huge deal that it is.
One of the ways that we keep the focus on Jesus is that we don't celebrate Santa. Now I realize this is a controversial subject and many people think we're taking the fun out of Christmas. We have found Christmas to be no less joyful without Santa (we used to celebrate Santa so we are able to compare). If anything, Christmas has only become more joyful and more special as we have focused less on the Santa/present/consumerism part and more on the Jesus/redemption of the world part.
I saw this comment on Facebook the other day from someone that I do not know, so I can't give him proper credit (sorry Andrew!), but I have to share it. It's a pretty good summation of how I feel about Santa.
"I always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me, but when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache."
We believe that the birth of Jesus stands alone. God's decision to send his son, knowing he would die on a cross for us bringing reconciliation and redemption, is as wonderful news as we could ever hope for. I want my kids to know and celebrate that.
And even if we wanted our kids to believe in Santa Claus, it wouldn't be possible. One of the most important values we hold for our kids is that they are in relationship with people living in poverty. We believe God's instructions in the Bible to take care of the poor are clear and we believe that is best done through relationship. And here's the simple truth: if your kids are in relationship with those in poverty, it is obvious that there is no Santa. You can't hide or explain away why the majority of kids in this world actually don't receive anything on Christmas morning. And that just shows me how far off the celebration of Christmas is from the heart of God. Christmas is about people who have too much getting more, while people who have little are lucky to receive a few handouts. Why aren't we overcome by the fact that while we enjoy our more-than-enough, people are dying of starvation or from lack of clean water or from curable diseases? How do we justify that if we spent 1/20 of what what we spend on Christmas in just one year on the clean water crisis, that every single person in the world would have clean water?
I'm not saying that every child getting tons of toys on Christmas is the answer. This isn't about presents. Our kids get presents from family so we are not anti-gift giving. It's about our hearts and our posture. If you look around (at commercials, at facebook statuses, at Black Friday, at people's stress levels this time of year), you will see that our hearts and our posture are about entitlement and having more. And for our family, that takes the joy out of Christmas. Always trying to keep up and have what we need under the tree isn't fun.
It's not always picture perfect and our kids aren't running around shouting about how they love helping others, but we hope that we are growing hearts made of thankfulness and love. Thankfulness for the gift of Jesus and a relationship with God and love for others.
The past few years we have tried to find special ways to celebrate Advent. In 2009, we ate rice and beans every night for dinner and gave the money we saved on groceries to clean water wells. Last year, we had one of the kids pick out a gift to give someone in need each day of Advent. We gave things like a camel, rickshaw, sewing machine, pigs, desk, and clean water.
This year as we prepared for Advent, examined where we were, and prayed, we found ourselves in a place where all we are doing for Advent is reading our daily devotional and doing our Advent calendars. We will have a family meeting soon and give each kid a certain amount of money to give away however they choose. And we will focus on being together as a family, celebrating such a special time in a foreign country without most of the ones we love. And being thankful that a good friend who is like family is coming to be with us.
Peace, love, and joy. I love those words to describe Christmas. May they be written on your heart this Advent season.