By R. Kevin Johnson
Over Thanksgiving dinner this year, our friends asked my wife and me about striking a balance between secular and sacred influences during the holidays. They wanted to know about the “magical” part of this season and how we treat those things compared to the reality of the Christ.
The question was specifically related to Santa Claus; however, there are many things that block the starlight that shines above the manger at Christmas. Frosty and Reindeer run loose among us. Retailers beckon parents to pick up the latest “must-have” before it is too late. In my lifetime, I’ve seen this scene play out with Teddy Ruxpin, Beanie Babies, Furby, Wii, Cabbage Patch Kids, Star Wars action figures and (who could ever forget) that tickly-giggly Elmo.
My wife and I neither emphasize nor deemphasize Santa during December. We tend to focus on the portion of the Santa story that is derived from the life of Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children, whose feast day happens to be Dec. 6. Saint Nicholas’ secreted gift-giving brought joy to others. We remind our 3-year-old that our family strives to help those who have less than we do, just like Nicholas did.
We also journey from week to week focused on the hope, peace, joy and love that Jesus brings with his advent. We teach her about miracles and the mighty works of God. We tell her that Jesus brings light and life and that he is the greatest gift we will ever receive. Then, we bundle up and take her to have her picture made with the fuzzy, jolly guy at the mall.
We encouraged our friends to work out their own method to balance the secular with the sacred at home during this special season. Then my wife said, “You know, I think Santa is just like Elmo to our daughter — a fuzzy, fun, fictional character.”
I think that’s true.
Truer still is that parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual development of their children and that if you allow other people to raise your children, they certainly will. Christmas morning our daughter may or may not have a gift under the tree that says “from Santa”; but she’s not expecting one. When asked what she wanted for Christmas she replied, “I just told Santa that he needs to get something for baby Jesus.”