All the years I was a single adult, and even part of a young married couple, I never really thought much about how I celebrate Christmas. It was mostly a synchronization of sacred and secular. I went to Christmas Eve worship, and I bought a gaggle of gifts to give to others. I touted Santa Claus, and sang “Silver Bells.” I may have stashed a Nativity in the dining room, but mostly I had a giant Christmas tree covered in a random assortment of ornaments that said more about my eclectic personality than the birth of Jesus. Then I had a child, and my whole world changed. It had to, because there are a lot of things competing for our attention, but God gives us priorities, and Christ is at the top.
Suddenly, I had someone living within my domicile to whom I had to convey the meaning of Christmas, teach about the birth of Jesus Christ. The more I tried to tell the story of the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem, the more I looked around my home and the lifestyle of the Christmas season, and the more I just saw clutter and distraction. I started digging through my traditions and trying to simplify the season so my son could understand. I remember telling my mother that I has made the decision not to introduce my son to Santa Claus, so there would be no distracting him from Jesus. It did not go over well. It was like I was doing something bizarre, and I was. I was suddenly clearing the way for Christ, and making Christ not just the center of my season, but the sole focus.
As the years have gone on, I have added more and more to my Christ only Christmas season and celebration. I acquired more Nativities, many of other culturally diverse portrayals from all around the world, and have one in every room, so we are always seeing the visual representation of the space into which Jesus was born, the lowly circumstances of the King of kings’ birth. I even have one that is super kid friendly, which my son plays with like any other toy set. Storm troopers, ninjas, and super heroes have all made an appearance in the stable to see Baby Jesus. We save the Baby Jesus figurine for all the other Nativities for Christmas day, and spend the morning putting the right Christ-child in the corresponding manger. It can take a while, and cause confusion, but it is like a reverse egg hunt. The Wise Men are far off on the other side of the room, and don’t arrive on site until Epiphany on January 6th. I pared down the non-Jesus stuff, and even adopted the liturgical color theme. Losing the secular red and green, I embraced a world of blue, the Advent color of hope, and white, the color of Christmas, a High Holy Day in the life of the Church. People would come over and ask if I was Jewish. No, but my Savior is. I stopped playing so much secular Christmas music too. Now my house favors sacred music in a variety of instrumental presentations. I even have a Christmas fife and drum album from Williamsburg with Colonial hymns. I find that I don’t miss songs about rushing around buying presents, and running people over with fictional flying caribou. I hear them when I am out and about, and even sing along, but my home is focused on the coming of Emmanuel, not petitioning Santa Baby for a convertible car in light blue.
What I did during Advent changed as well. I started taking my son with me to visit my church’s homebound members on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to deliver cards I had the children of the church make, because even a two year old can color. We go to see the sick, and those imprisoned in the homes they once had the liberty to leave at will. This year I’m taking my son to serve a Christmas meal in the local soup kitchen, instead of the tradition of leaving out cookies for Santa Claus. We clean out our closets and his playroom, making room, because there was no room at the inn for Jesus and his family. We take what we no longer use and probably never really needed, and find new homes for it. Sometimes through donation sites, and sometimes by giving them to others who I know could use the items, like a struggling single mother whose son is a couple of years behind mine in clothing sizes. I stopped buying my own son a plethora of presents, and instead buy him three things, the number modeled after the three gifts of the Wise Men, that will be useful for our next family vacation. I am trying to teach my son about expectation and hope, the core of the Christmas season. In a world of instant gratification, I want him to learn patience, so he can wait for the Lord (Psalm 130:5), and I am learning right alongside him. I even changed how I shop for others.
This year I’m making a large donation to Heifer International, and giving a token small animal figurine to those for whom the gift is dedicated. If I am going to teach my son that Christmas is not about getting things, but receiving Christ, then I realize that I have to change how I give things. I have to make every action intentional. Last year, we took a huge jar of change we had been filling over the course of the months preceding Christmas, and went around looking for Salvation Army buckets to make donations. Then my son, who was only four at the time, said that it was cold and the bell ringers needed something warm to drink. So we added hot cocoa to our stops. We were trying to be a blessing, and the smiles and words of thanks that greeted us blessed us right back.
Last year my son turned to me on Christmas Day and said, “Some people do Santa Claus at their house, but you do Jesus.” In that moment, all my transition and my counter-cultural work was worth it, because there was Christ at the center of our Christmas. Like I said, when I had my son, my whole world changed, and now I can say with assurance that it was for the better, just as the birth of God’s Son changed the world. When the way we approach Christmas keeps that always in sight, we are better able to change the world around us too.