Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. I am a relational person to my core and the holiday season seems to be so closely linked to many activities and visits that involve the very family and friends my soul is tied to. So naturally, I am in "heaven" during the Christmas season. But, that's not even what Christmas is about, and the older I get, the more and more I am beginning to realize how much we really miss at Christmas.
I noticed the problem shortly after we decorated our tree and began our seasonal activities. My almost three old's fixation with the season was focused solely on Frosty the Snowman. Sinful? No. Misdirected? Yes. I began to realize that all the ideas, thoughts, and perceptions our son has about Christmas are things he is exposed to, and we are completely in charge of what he is exposed to at his young age. So in short? It's our fault! At that point, he wasn't articulating an obsession with presents, or even Santa Claus, but even more, he wasn't articulating anything about Jesus.
My perspective has changed this year, and this year I don't feel it- I don't feel the tension that our commercialized Christmas season brings- the tension to rush out amid crazy and frantic shoppers. I find myself turned off by the gobs and gobs of commercialized decorations that pull everyone's attention away from the real Christmas- the one that has Jesus at the center and includes reverence, generosity, and gratitude.
I think my generation of Christians (those of us in our 20's and 30's) have been making efforts to embrace culture in an appropriate way in order to make a real difference biblically in the world. We seek not to shelter our children, but wisely, and age appropriately, explain the world and its problems in such a way that they grow up thinking and living biblically. (And yes this involves on-going conversations from a young age about the appropriate use of alcohol, sex, and other life choices, instead of remaining quiet in an attempt to shelter and what we think is "keeping them safe"). We seek to see our children Gospel-centered, not morality centered. And although we want to saturate our children with Jesus and Biblical truth, we don't want to cheesily "Christianize" their world in a way that will make Jesus and Christianity so commonplace that it has no passion, no drive, no influence. Examples of "cheesily christianizing one's world" would be things like making something "Christian" that wasn't meant to be "Christian" in its original form. For example, "Christian Mother Goose Rhymes" instead of the classic Mother Goose Rhymes, or every house decoration turned into something Christian such as a candle with the saying, "Jesus is the light of the world" instead of just a candle because you like it. These things are not bad. I have Scripture up in my house and "Christian" things. But the danger in them is making Jesus commonplace, instead of Kingly place. Rather than every mention and every representation of Jesus being purposeful, deliberate, reverent, holy, and awe-inspiring, we have reduced His name to a cheesy decoration or put his name on a book to convince our kids to behave a certain way.
All that being said, I think I unknowingly began to take Jesus down a notch in Christmas, especially once we had children, because I didn't want to be that "cheesy" Christian, who Christianizes everything and makes Jesus commonplace instead of Kingly place. But then it hit me, there is no such thing as "christianizing" Christmas because Christmas is Jesus. Without Him, there isn't Christmas, and without Him, we are nothing, we have nothing. Our life would be purposeless.
"So what happened to Christmas? How did it turn from something simple and beautiful, to what we see now? The enemy has slowly hijacked Jesus' birth and handed it over on a silver platter to commercialism, marketing, and a get-more mentality." (Jen Hatmaker). We have even turned the story of St. Nicholas (who was a real person, and a Christian who invested in the poor) into a god to be worshipped, to idolize, to perform for, as someone to benefit us, and someone to give our undivided attention to.
What happened to Christmas? What happened to Jesus, the Kingly newborn who came to redeem the world?
What would happen if Christians all over decided to take back Christmas, and "celebrate Jesus in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity?" (Jen Hatmaker)
I'm just beginning to realize that in this area of worshipping Jesus, I have long given lip service to Jesus at Christmas, all while really focusing my heart and attention on the other "joys" of the season such as family, getting together with friends, our culture's idea of Christmas traditions, and even the excitement of getting gifts FOR others. That can be an idol you say? Absolutely. But here at the Oren household, we. are. done. We have made changes this year that will hopefully steer us away from a realization many years down the road when our children are older that we have a huge mess to un-do, in which our children then go crazy over "their Christmas" being messed up.
We have a massive job ahead of us as parents. To give our children the real Jesus. The awe-inspiring Jesus. Not the commonplace "cheesy" Jesus. But the Kingly Jesus, the one who absolutely, positively doesn't hold a chance against a guy with a big belly, a bright red suit and presents galore. When children lack spiritual perspective, the world and its selfish materialism will almost always win. We as parents have been appointed by God to build their spiritual perspective, and if we do it from the start, the choice will be easy... Jesus or world? Jesus.
Here's a heart-breaking statement from a non-Christian friend of a girl's blog I read. He states, "I have always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me. But when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache."
We have begun making changes and will continue to in the near future regarding Christmas. We have not nailed down specifics in every category yet, but will do so as they come up as our children get older. For now, at their ages, especially Mekonen's age and his personality of "all or nothing," we have changed the following:
1. Santa Claus- no huge focus on the commercialized Santa Claus. We are telling our children the real, original story of St. Nicholas, as someone who was devoted to Jesus and the poor. Maybe in the future when they are old enough to understand, we will do something fun with it on December 6th, (the day he died), such as putting out a shoe and it being filled with candy (like the actual St. Nicholas did in his town). This perspective has changed, even from last year, where we were okay with doing all the imaginary Santa things as fun and not real, but still doing them. We are now convicted that this is confusing our children and their developing perspective. Our hearts are designed to worship, from the beginning, and we want to make the choice of who to worship at Christmas an easy one.
2. Christmas Books- last year I started a tradition of reading a Christmas book to Mekonen every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We quickly realized the majority of the books were focused on the commercialized Christmas of presents, Santa, and even gift-GIVING. But gift-giving, not just receiving, can also be an idol, and can take away from Jesus. We took away all Christmas stories that were not focused on the birth of Jesus, and the beginning of His mission to rescue the world. Cheesy christianizing? Absolutely not, because Christmas is Jesus. And there are a lot of neat books about the Nativity and Jesus' birth from all different perspectives, etc. Our new one this year is Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd Jones (author of The Jesus Storybook Bible).
3. Christmas Movies- for the time being, we have decided not to have our kids watch the Christmas movies that focus on commercialized Christmas, such as Rudolph, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, etc. We aren't saying we will keep these out forever, because they are certainly fun. But they are fun after your spiritual perspective is in place, something we are in the beginning stages of building in our children.
4. Gifts- It is so. much. fun. to give gifts to our children. It's so fun to see them excited about a special toy or gift that they really like. But we are struggling with the idea of "showering" them with gifts on a day that is not about them. Children are literal. Their perspectives are simple and often one-sided. How confusing it must for a child to shower them with an over-abundance of gifts, even tell them Santa is involved with the gift giving, then tell them when they are middle elementary age that it's all fake and to stop being so selfish because Christmas is about Jesus. What?
Because giving gifts to our children is so much fun, we would rather shower them with gifts on their birthdays instead of Christmas. We aren't saying "no gifts" at Christmas, we just don't want it to be the focus, and we don't want it to be an overload. Lots of families set-up gift policies such as 3 gifts each, or 1 gift, or gift poems such as, "Something you want, something you need something to wear, something to read." We have not decided on a "gift rule" and I don't know if we ever will, but we are mindful and intentional of this aspect of Christmas. This year, we got one gift for Evie and one for Mekonen, and then filled their stockings because our children also receive gifts from family members.
5. Christmas Music- our son is obsessed with music! And Mekonen is an all or nothing kid. We have nothing specifically against all the fun, more cultural Christmas music. But again, Christmas' focus should be Jesus, and his birth. We have stopped playing all the music that doesn't focus on the wonder of Jesus' birth. We're listening to all the classic Christmas carols such as The First Noel, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Angels We Have Heard on High, etc. We were created to worship. We were created to be amazed. If we do not give our children the Jesus of the Bible to worship and be amazed by, the commercialism, presents, and imagination will win their tender hearts, Once they've been won over, it's very hard to get them back. If you know THE Jesus of the Bible, there really is no competition. If as an adult, in your heart, you would choose the presents and worldly glories of Christmas over a humble babe in a manger, I suggest you have been given the wrong Jesus.
6.Advent- It means waiting, anticipating, looking forward to. And at that, the birth of Jesus. We began the workings of Advent traditions in our home. We have started the Jesse Tree this year and are working out exactly how we want things to go with this. I imagine as the years go on, we will tweek our Advent celebrations to meet our family's needs. Next year, I want to focus more on a personal Advent as well.
So all that to say, we are focusing on Jesus and giving our children a Christmas obsessed with the Kingly newborn. We have shifted our Christmas craft making from commercialized characters to a felt baby in a popsicle stick manger. We are still doing things like Christmas cookies and going to see Christmas lights, and decorating our house, but with a different focus and a different mindset- it's all for a big celebration... the birthday of our King.
The Lord is speaking quietly to my heart, and I've stopped long enough in this crazy season to listen, to really listen, and never before have I felt such peace, anticipation, and joyful celebration in my heart over the true gift we are celebrating at Christmas. Without the Christmas story, my life is in vain.
Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee.