Parenting as Theological Exercise: Christmas Edition.

I should preface this entire post by saying there is no possible way to say what I’m going to say without bothering some folks. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that everyone ought to do it this way, hell, I’m not even sure if my wife agrees with me or not as we haven’t talked about this (so maybe blogging about it isn’t the best, but hey). Also, these are not entirely complete thoughts, so I welcome dialog and push-back wherever you may see fit. OK, onwards and upwards..

I remember when I found out that the whole jolly-fat-guy-with-a-white-beard-and-a-red-suit thing was a hoax. Yeah, Santa. That guy. The guy upon whose lap your little children sit as they tell him all the shitty things they want for Christmas (God, it sounds pathetic, don’t it?). But anyways, if I’m remembering this correctly I think I was in about the 3rd or 4th grade and Ryan Neily told me it was all a lie. I went home that day and conned my mother into telling me the truth (i.e. “Mom, if I ask you something do you promise to tell me the truth?”). It worked and I never looked back, except for that time…

Christians understand time differently. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Church understands time differently so Christians ought to do so. For example, the secular year runs from January though December and has something to do with the rotation of the earth around the sun, or the tides, or werewolves or something. In contrast to this, the Christian year begins with the season of Advent and culminates with the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe (in many Western churches, anyway). That is to say, the Church does not understand time in light of the rotation of the earth around the sun but in light of the redemptive work of God in Christ. We begin not with “January” but with eagerly awaiting the coming of Christ. We end not with “December” but with the proclamation that Christ is indeed enthroned in power and glory in this very moment. This is central to how Christians (ought) to understand time, and it is indeed central to our identity.

The Church Year is peppered throughout with various holy days and festivals. The two big ones are, no surprise here, Christmas and Easter. Christians understand these in light of how they understand time, that is, they understand these seasons in light of the coming of the Son of God to the world and so on and so forth. This is what seasons like Christmas and Easter are about. When we dumb this down, or remove it entirely, or remove just enough of it to make it non-sensical we are left with a vacuum. Now, I can’t speak to the origins of Santa Claus (rearrange “Santa” and you get “Satan”, just saying. Kidding.), and/or the Easter Bunny but insofar as they have meaning in Western society it is to fill the void that is left when we forget the story that we’re meant to remember. Now, this is to be expected of the world, of course…the forgetting of the story that is. Amnesia. Christians on the other hand, must not forget (though we often do and that’s another matter entirely). How the Church guards herself against amnesia is via anamnesis. You’ll notice the etymological similarity here (the words look awful alike!).

Anamnesis means to remember, but it’s more than that. It’s not simply a recollection of a past and distant event, rather, it’s the re-presentation of that event, it’s being-made-present. There’s a sort of defiance when it comes to anamnesis, I think. A sort of, “yeah, it might not appear to be so but it damn well is!”

Aside from the fact that Santa Claus is a bold-faced lie, I’m interested in the possibility of cultivating our children to see and understand the world rightly, in light of the in-breaking work of God in Christ. Maybe this means resisting the vampiric, soul-sucking, death-dealing consumerism that seems to be associated with Christmas (and, yes, Easter). Maybe this means forgetting about a fat guy that gives you everything your grubby, selfish little hands can grab at and remembering the Advent of the Son of God. Hell, St. Nicholas is where this mythological beast named Santa got his beginnings, and he’s certainly a fellow worth remembering. (UPDATE: Did you know that St. Nicholas allegedly punched Arius? Well, he did. Take that, fat man.)*

What do you think? Am I being a grump? Should I just back off and let my kids enjoy the magic of Santa and his gift-giving goodness?

Let me know what you think. And if you have kids or plan to I’d be interested in hearing what you’ve done or plan to do.

Postlude: I should say, in light of some expected criticism, that this all only makes sense when our lives are located within a particular story. That is to say, this post is addressed primarily to myself, and then to my Christian brothers and sisters.

*Thanks to Paul Lubberts for this tidbit.

  1. I wrote something similar in my blog a year ago:

    I completely agree with you. I hate the way Christmas seems to be more about Santa Claus and shopping for presents. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of present – giving and receiving them. Only thing is it’s now not only about how expensive the gifts are but showing off how much money you have, at least pretending you have it.

  2. jt* said:

    Nice post Zara. I like your idea for a Nativity parade. Or perhaps, a procession. That would be cool! Mary and Joseph and the whole lot (there’d be no spectators in this procession, only participants – followers and doddlers alike) processing along. Now *that’s* a Christmas parade I could get involved in.

    Come to think of it, Kathryn has this planned for St. Matthew’s. It will be led by the children and the rest of us will follow them about the neighbourhood looking for shelter.

    • I really like your idea of everyone joining in!

      I didn’t know that St. Matthew’s will be doing that. It sounds like fun! Pity I won’t be there to see it.

      • jt* said:

        Bummer. Are you heading out of town for Christmas?

  3. Orlagh Turtle said:

    Loved your post Jonathan…maybe its about time we ‘re-vamped’ our whole attitude about this Glorious season…..standing with Advent.Would LOVE to join your ‘walk to visit the manger ‘ parade with the family…please keep me updated with your church’s festivities please

  4. alisha said:

    well I’m sure how to respond to this other then by saying ” we dont lie to our children” . If your feeling that way then maybe you should sit down with your kids and tell them about santa, ie where he came from, ect. Then ask for forgiveness from your kids for liying to them. Its also a wonderrful opportunity to share about Jesus and how he forgive all who seek him. In this day in age when the world is filled with lies why add to it. Be honest in a loving way. Example if your little girl asks if she looks fat say ” You look beautiful to me”. Or if the outfit is to tight on her say” Sara lets try on somthing else and we will give this outfit to sally down the street. Fill in the blanks with your own names. I hope this helps!

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