I have a confession to make. Christmastime transforms me into a giddy child all over again. I love everything about Christmas. I love the music, the lights, the nativity scenes, the advent candles, the smells, the food (can you say, “Christmas tamales!”), the movies, and even the old classic television Christmas specials. You know the ones I mean: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas . . . and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Rudolph. That one is probably one of my least favorites because every time I watch it, I get so disappointed in Santa. After all, why discount the usefulness of a reindeer just because his nose glowed? Come on, Santa. . . .walk the walk!
All kidding aside, I am reminded once again, that who Santa has become, especially in our American culture, is so far from the original Santa, Saint Nicholas. While there are more stories and legends than historical fact about the presumed Bishop of Myra, it is clear, that Santa’s namesake started as a person who was known for his generosity to those in need, a protector of children, and one who put Christ at the center of his life. As one biographer writes:
It’s been a long journey from the Fourth Century Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas, who showed his devotion to God in extraordinary kindness and generosity to those in need, to America’s jolly Santa Claus, whose largesse often supplies luxuries to the affluent.1
I am not saying here that we need to throw Santa out completely, but perhaps embracing the original traditions of Saint Nicholas could be a step in the right direction of holding tightly to the true center of Christmas, that is the birth of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t such a focus help restore a little balance and possibly even calmness into an oft-stressful time of year?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
How is my family showing generosity to those in need as a reflection of Christ bestowing undeserved grace to me?
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “but I AM one of those in need.” Showing generosity does not always mean giving money or food. It could be an encouraging note, doing a task such as raking leaves, laundry, or baby-sitting, or simply taking time to sit and listen. For others of you, does your family intentionally participate in ways to give to those who are struggling? Activities like “Operation Christmas Child” shoeboxes, Angle Trees, taking meals to those who would go hungry, and serving at a homeless shelter, can help remind your family that to whom much has been given, much is expected. The important thing here is taking a heart check, insuring that our families do these things out of a desire to show the love of Christ, and not to make ourselves feel better because we got the tax write-off or have done our good deed for the year.
Do I keep my family’s Christmas traditions in proper perspective with the true meaning of Christmas?
I will be the first to admit that one of my favorite traditions my family still observes is a filled Christmas stocking. On both sides of my family, all the adults fill each others’ stockings. It is so fun, not only to select stocking stuffers, but to see with what others have filled mine. But, this is an added treat. It is not the sole focus of Christmas. Nor is being naughty or nice, seeing Santa, or how many presents have my name under the tree. For me, Christmas is not Christmas without hearing the Christmas story read out of Luke, setting up the crèche, and celebrating Christ with my church family. In fact, the years we are unable to gather with the body of Christ for a Christmas Eve service, just feels like something is missing. Family traditions are important. Just make sure your traditions are filtered through the true meaning of Christmas
Am I stressed out because I am so focused on buying the right gift, making sure the house is decorated just right, and everyone is happy, rather than focusing on the relationships in my life?
As a self-titled “Martha,” perfectionist, and people-pleaser, I understand the propelling drive making sure everything is just right can have on a person. However, as I have become older and journeyed through life’s ups and downs, the most important thing is no longer the “whats” but the “whos.” At the top of my list is my relationship with Jesus Christ, and from there my list continues with family, friends, and acquaintances. Give yourself a break and embrace your “inner Mary” who is focused on the one thing. If the turkey burns, the gift wasn’t just right, or the tree got knocked over by the cat, remind yourself it is not the end of the world. Odds are, you will all have a good laugh, make a favorite memory, and next year you will reminisce about the frozen pizza you had for Christmas because the oven suddenly decided to jump to broil!
Yeah, Santa is going to disappoint. But, Christmas is not Santa. While I cannot claim that Dr. Seuss was any great theologian, his How the Grinch Stole Christmas paints a picture that Christmas is not about the stuff, the tinsel, the food, or the music. And who could forget Linus’ reminder that it is not how big the tree is, but the fact that God sent his son, in the form of a baby, to be the Savior of the world.
How do you make sure that the true meaning of Christmas stays front and center during this festive season?
1 “Saint Nicholas and the Origin of Santa Claus,” http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/origin-of-santa/