Even prior to the Premier’s announcement of a lockdown today, Christmas and New Year’s, for many people, was going to look much different than the season of faith, family and merriment that many people often associate with the season. The lockdown announced for Boxing Day will make this an even more difficult season for many.
To put this in perspective (and provide encouragement) and to remember that Christmas is about Christ—that He is all we need for a blessed Christmas or to live a blessed life in the face of trials—let us turn to the first Christmas story to contemplate just how difficult it would have been for Joseph and Mary and how Christ made all the difference.
Though they had no Christmas by which to evaluate their lived experience, the first Christmas was no easy time for Mary and Joseph. Notwithstanding the shame the couple probably faced because of the pre-marital pregnancy, they had to travel away from their comfort zone and support network, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. While not a long distance by modern standards, it was far enough by ancient standards. We might think that because Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David” that he would have had close family to call in on. However, Luke’s silence on this matter leads us to believe that Joseph’s roots were more connected to Nazareth than they were to Bethlehem; otherwise some relative probably would have made room for them. As it stood, homes and inns full because of the census, the couple were all alone in a foreign town and had to take shelter in a stable, “because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7). Bad travel plans, a grotty motel—not to mentioned being 9 months pregnant—it all seemed as if their stay would be a miserable one. But the cherish story of the nativity is far from unhappy because Jesus made all the difference.
Trusting God’s providence in the situation, looking to Him, Joseph and Mary were pleasantly surprise that first Christmas. The promised One of old, revealed as the expected child through prophecies, dreams and visions, finally arrived. The birth of any child has the effect of bringing joy to troubled circumstances; how much greater must have their joy been to welcome the Christ child!? Then unexpected visitors dropped in and told of angelic choirs rejoicing at the Saviour’s birth. God was encouraging the couple. Mary treasured and “pondered these things in her heart” as the shepherds went away “glorifying and praising God.” It is amazing how faith in God’s providence and the presence of Christ can bring joy to otherwise discouraging circumstances!
The Christmas holidays of 2020–21 will certainly be different, but they needn’t be as grim as Satan may tempt us to think. May it be that God is stripping away all of the distractions and adornments of the holidays: goodies, good company, traditions, etc, etc, so that we might focus exclusively on Jesus? As we worship Christ at Christmas may we be filled with all the joy and wonder Joseph and Mary were on that first bleak mid-winter Christmas night, and may we be a light in the darkness.
[To read a blog on the history of Santa Claus click here]
Recently, my wife was taking our son, who turns two and a half on Christmas Day, through the checkout. In that tone by which adults can sometimes speak to young children, the cashier asked my son, “Have you gotten your letter off to Santa already? What did you ask for?” He stared at her with a blank look, he didn’t know what she was talking about, not because he couldn’t understand her but because he—intentionally—hasn’t been taught about the modern myth of Santa. My wife respectfully responded to the cashier, “we don’t celebrate Santa, we remember Jesus’ birth at Christmas.” The cashier looked somewhat confounded by my wife’s answer; that a child would be deprived of the happiness of believing in such a myth, however, as my wife was respectful the conversation ended—though somewhat awkwardly on her part—with politeness and a seed being sown for her to think about.
Is such a view being too Grinch like or is their wisdom in such a view?
I for one was part of the syncretistic Christian culture of past decades that fused Jesus and Santa together. I cringe to remember that our local church even brought Santa into the church for the service. To the contrary my wife’s family grew up not teaching her and her siblings about the myth of Santa, instead focusing on the real meaning of Christmas. When my wife told her friend (who happened to be my 2nd cousin) that Santa wasn’t real, she burst into tears and my wife ended up in the principal’s office with a call home to her mom!
As a maturing Christian, and now a parent, I’ve moved from how I was raised to the view my wife and I hold today: to not perpetuate the culturally embraced myth of Santa but focus on the real reason of Christmas. We don’t do this in a Grinch like spirit and so far from spoiling joy for our son, his joy is made complete.
Here are three reasons why we don’t teach him the myth of Santa (there are many more):
Come on ring those bells,
Jesus is the King,
Born for you and me.
Come on ring those bells,
Jesus we remember it’s your birthday.
How do we celebrate Christmas with our son? We tell him about Jesus and the Christmas story and the Gospel. We explain that all of the adornments of Christmas (greenery, goodies, etc) are all to help us celebrate the Incarnation. We give him gifts, in love, from mummy and daddy, and say that we give gifts because God gave the greatest gift of all, His Son. And that is something worth celebrating!
Ever wonder where the modern myth of Santa Claus came from? The clue is in the word “modern” as he’s only been around really since the early 1800s. Building upon the European popularity of Saint Nicolas (Sinter Klaus, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, etc) in the late 1700 and early 1800s Dutch residents in New York popularized the tradition in the New World. In the early 1800s a growing commercialism likewise took hold of the gift giving tradition which translated into advertisement and shopping mall Santas. In 1822 the Episcopal minister, C.C. Moore, wrote the poem “Twas the night before Christmas,” which added many other elements to the gift giving tradition, including reindeer. In 1881 Thomas Nast illustrated the modern image of Santa. In the 1890s the Salvation Army sent unemployed men dresses as Santa to collect donations. In the 1930s and 40s the lore receive a huge boost through film, namely Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (’39) and Miracle on 34th Street (’47). Songs such as “Santa Claus is coming to Town” (’34) and Coca-Cola advertisements did much to embed the popular conceptions. Such modern myths have nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas (the birth of Christ) and very very little to do with the real saint Nick.
Santa Claus means Saint Nicolas, it is a derivative of Dutch and ultimately Latin. Sainthood was an idea that slowly developed from the Patristic period and into the Mediaeval Ages to honour exemplary Christians (to the earliest Christians, grounded in the teaching of Scripture, saw every believe as a saint, or a holy and chosen one of God in Christ). Nicolas was one such man, an Overseer from Myra in Lycia (south western Turkey) in the late third to early fourth centuries. Very little is known about him, though even after his death he remained very popular. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. There are many reports that he attended the important Church council of Nicaea. A church was first built in his honour in Constantinople (Istanbul) in AD 565 and a shrine arose around his supposed burial location in AD 1087 in Bari (southern Italy). He became the patron saint of children because he is said to have inherited great wealth which he gave away. Famously he is said to have rescued three young girls from being sold into prostitution by purchasing their freedom and providing them with a dowry. Inevitably this man became renowned for his kindness and generosity. As a Christian, such charity was surely rooted in the generosity of God’s grace shown to him in Christ, and were an outpouring of his changed life as an adornment of the Gospel (Tit 2:10), forsaking wealth and storing up treasure in Heaven. How very different the real Nicholas is from the modern myth of Santa Claus. Isn’t truth refreshing? May he be our example to look to Christ this Christmas and embrace a Christ-like kindness and generosity that is the fruit of faith, a faith we all so desperately need.
 F.L. Cross, ed., Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1958), 955.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.