With the re-post yesterday, a few folks have asked in one way or another, "How do we help our children talk about our focus on Jesus rather than Santa without being self-righteous?"
What a great question. First, let me say, if you want answers without pride and self-righteousness, I'm not your best teacher. I'm certain others have written more helpful stuff and lived more consistently than I have. Perhaps we could all benefit from reading a book like Humility just before the holidays.
But here are a few things I thought about in response to that excellent and practical question.
1. Prepare your children before they're in the situation. In general, I fall down on this way too much. Too much of my instruction comes after the fact. Consequently, it's damage control or re-directing rather than insulating equipping. So, I'd encourage us all who avoid Santa to talk with our children about why we choose not to, giving them a sense of the superior joy of focusing on Jesus. And talk with them about the fact that many, many others--both Christians and non-Christians--do include Santa Claus in their Christmas celebrations. Be sure to explain that doing Santa doesn't make a person a bad Christian, but that you think Jesus and the gospel are clearer without Santa. And part of our preparation, should be a little role play or instruction on how to respond when they're asked things like, "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" When I used to train people on interviewing techniques, we used to teach people to think of the questions they would like not to be asked and decide how they're going to answer them if they come up. That principle works here I think.
2. Don't leave your children hanging; model the response you're hoping for. Invariably, there will be that neighbor or friend who sees you in the grocery store and turns to ask that awkward question of your child. They'll mean well and will do a pretty good job of engaging the child directly... bending down to eye level, smiling, and giving all kinds of joyful non-verbal encouragements. (We should engage children like this all the time, really). Your child will look at this smiling giant and then look to mom and dad with a silent plea, What do I do now! You're the one leading this thing! Say something!
So, we should say something. Graciously, with a smile, bring the conversation back to adult-to-adult. And say something like, "At Christmas, we enjoy focusing on the birth of Jesus and what it means to the world?" Hopefully, that opens some opportunity to explain what it means. If your child is old enough and familiar with the gospel, you might even relieve the tension by turning to the child and asking, "Why did Jesus come? And what does that mean for the world?" But the point here is to encourage the parents to lead with a little modeling. We're not out for Santa fights in the produce aisle of the supermarket. So, aim for something short, winsome, and simple so your child can emulate it.
3. Teach children to take an interest in the traditions of others. We can go on the "offensive" here as well. We should teach our children not to be in a defensive posture about Christmas celebrations, but to be in that people-seeking, gospel-communicating, offensive posture of the Great Commission. So, it's good if we're the ones teaching our children that people celebrate differently--some of that is cultural and ethnic, some of it is just preference. Some of it is well thought-out and reasoned, some of it is just cultural response. We can show genuine interest in people by asking what kinds of things they do to celebrate Christmas, and by asking how they came to embrace those practices. We learn about others and we hopefully deepen a relationship.
4. Finally, we have to teach our children how to handle objections. Well-meaning people, after hearing that you don't do Santa Claus, will assume that means you don't do joy at Christmas. They'll assume you don't give gifts or that you're robbing the children. And they'll sometimes give voice to these objections by asking the child something like, "Aren't you gonna miss out on Santa and all the gifts?"
Here, we need to know two things. First, we need to know if our children are missing those things or longing for them. To what extent is materialism creeping into their hearts? Talking with them about this is helpful for us as parents apart from simply preparing for these kinds of conversations. And if they admit to struggling in this way, it's an opportunity to do a little heart work with our children.
Second, we need to know if our children are prepared to respond in situations like this. These kinds of questions are actually a lot of pressure to put on a 3-, 4-, or 5-year olds. Answering towering adults who obviously disagree with you can be intimidating. So, again, we should be ready to step in and model a response. But we should also teach children how to handle objections and disagreements. Learning short answers can be helpful:
Q: "Won't you miss all the presents?" Ans: "The best present comes from God in Jesus. That's what we enjoy most."
Q: "What will you do when the other children have lots of new toys?" Ans: "Share their joy with them, and continue to enjoy all the toys I already have."
Q: "What's wrong with believing in Santa?" Ans: "Others can. But I think it's better to believe in real things that are wonderful and beautiful, like Jesus."
Q: "Well, what do you do for Christmas then?" Ans: Fill in whatever your family does.
Whenever the child answers an objection graciously, joyfully, and honestly, affirm them. Join in by saying, "Yeah, that's right. We...." Again, don't leave them alone. Model how to respond and model that it's a family tradition. Lord willing, that'll pay off when they're one day defending the gospel itself and sticking together with the family of faith.
Just a few thoughts. I'd love to hear from others.
How do you teach your children to talk about why you do or don't include Santa in your Christmas celebrations?
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