Monday, December 21, 2009

The Fat Man and His Trash

We never taught our kids to believe in Santa Claus. We just taught them the obvious truth: that Santa Claus was as believable as Bugs Bunny. As a result, our family enjoyed the secular side of the holiday season without taking any of it seriously. The biblical account was serious and we never joked about the birth of Jesus. But Santa was quite another matter.
The result was some comical, unintended consequences - sort of unintended, anyway. Since our kids knew that "Santa Claus" was not to be taken seriously, any time they spotted a man dressed as Santa, they pointed out his presence with their own label. I'm not sure which of our three started it, but they began to refer to every Santa they saw as "the Fat Man." Not very complimentary, but with dead-on accuracy. And since his ever present bag of toys loosely resembled a Hefty bag left at the curb, Santa's load was designated "the trash."
Thereafter, we could never go into a mall, department store, or past a Salvation Army bell ringer without hearing, "There's the Fat Man and his trash!" Our son who's never had a quiet bone in his body would sound the declaration at ear-splitting decibels just to make sure that Santa got the message. Naturally, Santa objected. So did the parents who shifted nervously in line while waiting to take their little ones to pay homage to the Fat Man.
We have no idea how many children saw the light in that moment of revelation (or how many stuck the parents later with the question , "What's the big idea of lying to me all these years?"), but we didn't care. Whereas normally I would have turned crimson with our kids' public exposure of the overweight-department-store-employee-turned-Santa, this time, I smiled and agreed, "That's right!" and kept walking. It wasn't long before our kids became evangelistic and convinced their friends that Santa Claus was indeed "the Fat Man and his trash." Today, our children are ages 32, 30 and 22. They still react to the Fat Man every time they see him. And their evangelism isn't over. We have grandkids now, and I can't wait for their own moment of truth.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"The Fun Part of Christmas"

I had been pastor only a short time when I made what could have been a fatal error. I blew the whistle on Santa Claus. Actually, I blew the whistle on the parents. It all happened very unintentionally during a Sunday morning message in the midst of Christmas season. Somewhere in the middle of an illustration, I made the passing comment that my wife and I never taught our kids to believe in Santa Claus. Gasps, looks of surprise and dismay quickly informed me that I had committed a major boo-boo. That's when I learned that most of the parents in our church regularly taught their children to look for Santa Claus. Not only did I let the cat out of the bag, I destroyed the "bag" altogether. Parents were faced with having to explain to children whether Santa was indeed a real person or not. I don't know if some parents ever forgave me, and I wisely chose not to ask.
Santa Claus was never a major issue in our family because, early in our marriage, my wife and I decided how we were going to teach our children. We did not go to war against Santa. I did not preach against him, and I did not teach him either. Whenever our children asked about Santa Claus, we gave them the same answer together:
"Santa Claus is the fun part of Christmas."
It occurred to us that children enjoy fantasy and fairy tales every time they turn on the TV to the Saturday morning cartoons. But when is the last time you ever heard a sermon against Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd? Or Daffy Duck? Or Mickey Mouse? We don't waste time preaching against those characters because they are such obvious fantasy that we expect our children to know they are make-believe.
Why not treat Santa Claus the same way? Yes, I know Santa Claus hearkens back to St. Nicholas, but kids these days do not know that. They associate Santa with Rudolph, Frosty and Snowman, and Tim Allen ("The Santa Clause" movie). Bugs, Daffy and the Road Runner are for fun, and so is Santa Claus. Don't let him out of that box. Don't deprive the children of having fun with all the make-believe fun things of the season, but do not allow the fun things to take on a greater reality either. Let the kids know "We want you to have fun during Christmas, and Santa is for fun."
Santa is for fun, but the Bible is the truth - and we never confused truth with fantasy. We never taught our children that Santa was real. Jesus is real. Santa is for fun, but the Bible is real. The gospel is real. Our children could enjoy all the cartoons and holiday specials. We could decorate the house and give all the presents. We could laugh at all the Santa Claus movies. But when we opened the Bible or went to church, we left the fantasy behind. As our children grew, the fantasy subsided and reality replaced the make believe.
We never complained to our children about Santa Claus, and we never lied to them about him either. They believed us when we said, "Santa is the fun part of Christmas." And when we taught them the gospel, they believed us then as well. I'm glad we didn't have to apologize for anything we taught them. I'm glad they learned the difference between having fun and having the truth.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

'Tis the Season, So Far

You know. It's the season for some preachers to come out of the woodwork against all things Christmas. Time for the annual message against Santa Claus, "Christ Mass," and my favorite, "Baal Trees." Oh please. Can we just agree for once that 99.99% of the general public has no idea what all the fuss is about? As a matter of fact, probably 99.9% do not know that a fuss exists. They do not know - and don't care - that Christmas was a Catholic mass; that "Santa Claus" is the mispronunciation of "Saint Nicholas;" that Christmas trees probably really were "Yule logs" that descend from Celtic paganism. Who cares?
As a matter of fact, the atheists do - a bunch. If certain preachers and well meaning defenders of the faith can't identify with Christmas, the rest of godless America certainly identifies us with those traditions, every last one of them. As a result, there are wacky, witless public schools in our land who will not allow the colors red and green to be worn during the holiday season. The colors are considered too religious. Pardon my purple rage but exactly what color is Christian? Children can't sing Christmas carols in school anymore. (I remember the entire student body of my very public high school standing at the playing of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" during our Christmas assembly before vacation.) And don't even think of putting up a "Baal Tree" on public property; or uttering those sanctified words "Merry Christmas."
Our country is working overtime to rid itself of every last remnant of Christmas tradition so as to avoid any mention of the gospel at all costs. Meanwhile, somewhere in this vast secular landscape, a preacher will rail against Christmas trees, presents, and the ever-evil Santa Claus.
It's time we realized something. The fight isn't over Santa Claus. The secular humanists hate him too. They want to rid this country of every reference to the Christmas holiday and replace it with the "Mother Earth"/global warming cult. By preaching against our cultural traditions, we are playing into the hands of secularists who are trying to destroy our culture and replace it with their own invention. Don't be too quick to preach against Christmas. If we are not careful, we may get what we ask.