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Several years ago, we took a family vacation to Disneyworld. Our daughter, the oldest, had just turned six. Dressed in her favorite pale blue Cinderella dress and sparkly, silver clip-on earrings, her big brown eyes glistened with tear-filled wonder as we entered the massive castle doors. Our son was just four at the time and his little cheeks blushed as Cinderella bent down to greet them. He grinned sheepishly as each of the Disney princesses came by our table, one by one, to meet and greet us. They signed autographs and posed for photographs. There was singing and dancing and laughing…
It was, in a word, magical.
But this isn’t a post about Disneyworld.
It’s about something else, something equally as magical, yet seemingly much more debatable in our contemporary Christian culture: the whole Santa thing.
I’m often reluctant to write on such topics because they tend to create controversy and division among the body of Christ. My writing is and has always been much more descriptive than prescriptive and this post is no different. This is not “the” case for Claus, but rather our own personal case; our own story. At the end of Christmas day – and every day, I am just a mama utterly dependent on God’s grace in parenting… and everything else.
When the church at Galatia had their own dividing controversy, Paul responded with one of my favorite verses in scripture when he wrote, “My counsel is this: live freely, animated and motivated by God’s spirit” (Galatians 5:16 MSG).
The minute we succumb to unspoken or implied rules and regulations for Christian living or Christian parenting is the minute we fall out of the grace that He came to give us.
The truth is if you are in Christ, the same grace covers you whether Santa visits your home or not.
But, I hear it and sense it every year - this increasing, pervasive fear among us that if we allow our children to partake in any sort magical make believe during the Christmas season, the reality of Christ will somehow be lost on our children. It is fear that can imprison us and steal our joy. It is fear that invaded my heart when I was a new mom, too.
I can remember agonizing over the decision of whether or not we would allow our children to believe in Santa. It was 2004 and we were two twenty-something’s just starting a family, desperately wanting to do it right. Although it was long before the advent of social media, and long before the incessant flow of editorialized blog posts filled my news feed, I'd already heard and read so many, perhaps too many, of the “what ifs”... What if the inevitable discovery that Santa wasn't real left them with more than disappointment; what if it left them devastated? What if the realization of his non-existence led them doubt the very real existence of God altogether?
Looking back, can I just tell you that sometimes, I think some of us mamas think way too hard and for way too long and worry way too much?
For those who may be struggling with the same fear and confusion and worry this holiday season, can I just tell you that every parental worry we will ever experience is covered and included in the glorious grace that our Savior came to give us?
In light of who He is, as we prepared to celebrate our first Christmas as parents, we realized that a fictitious Santa wasn’t even on the same playing field as our non-fictitious, redeeming Savior.
We chose to do Santa on our own terms, stripping him of any God-like attributes such as omnipotence or omnipresence; we took away his list and filled him with grace. We chose, as so many others have, to have a Santa who acknowledged Christ and who pointed to Christ.
Santa came and went that year. He was there for the briefest of moments and gone.
But Christ, He remained; steadfast and unchanging.
He remained because He is in our every day, the very foundation of our lives. We have strived to teach our children to see Him in all of creation, in every season and every moment. They know that He is in the love we feel in our hearts because His word tells us that He is love. He is the creator of everything we see, hear, feel and touch. The apostle Paul said it this way, “He existed before anything else, and he holds all of creation together” (Colossians 1:17 NLT).
As our children have grown, we’ve grown along with them. We are still always learning to worry less and trust more. We are still always learning to prioritize our lives, our family, our holidays and our ordinary days around two things that Jesus himself, when pressed by the Pharisees, said were the most important: to love God with our whole hearts and to love people. (Matthew 22:36-39)
When we began to live our days around those principles and those priorities, our perspective shifted, worries of this world faded and our lives simplified.
By the time we were planning that trip to Disney, we didn’t wrestle with the decision of whether or not we would allow our children to experience that world of make believe. We didn’t ponder the spiritual implications that doing so might somehow distract, deflect or damage their perception of God.
When the trip ended, we never sat our children down and explained that what they had experienced wasn’t real. We never had a conversation with them before or after that trip to explain to them that Mickey and the gang were all fictitious characters or that the princesses were all actresses in costumes.
We didn’t do any of those things because we didn’t have to. Time, as it has a way of doing, did that for us.
Years later, Santa still comes and goes. It won’t be long before he’s gone forever. That baby girl that I held in my arms in 2004, who stood in awe at the door of Cinderella’s castle when she was six is now teetering on the edge of ten – and her tween years. Our little boy with the sheepish grin is will be eight in just a few days.
Soon, the time will come that we’ll share with them the story of the real Saint Nicholas, the 4th century saint who was motivated by his love for Christ and famed for his gifts to the poor. We’ll tell them how, through centuries, the world morphed his memory into a mythical cultural icon that became a tradition.
We’ll share with them why we chose to do Santa and how someday, God willing, they will get to choose whether they carry on the tradition with their children.
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Santa will soon take his rightful place among some of their fondest childhood memories.
But when Santa is long gone from our home for good, Christ will remain.
This Christmas, don’t let the great Santa debate divide you or distract you from the One who is eternally on the throne. Being a mama is hard enough. We need each other. Let’s focus more on love and grace that Christ brought to unite us and less on the distractions that divide us.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega--the beginning and the end," says the Lord God.
"I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come--the Almighty One."- Revelation 1:8
Nadia Wilder is a Southern girl by birth, saved by grace, mommy of two by blessing, and a writer by heart. She is passionate about her faith, family, photography and encouraging others to live abundantly in Christ. You can read more from Nadia at The Narrow Path Home.