It’s an interesting Christmas season with my clients, the economy, and Christmas.
I met a man this week who believes that, as a Christian, he’s “not going to lie to his children about Santa” because the Bible says “don’t lie”. I met with a woman who, though she’s on welfare — when given the option to stop being homeless or get her kids gifts, she’s spending all of her money on Christmas gifts because she “wants them to know that she loves them”. Then, today I met a child who told me he “doesn’t believe in” Christ, but told me all about the presents he’s getting… when he gets out of the place he’s in. Still, you could see it got to him when I talked about Jesus (via John the Baptist) not caring about our “flash” and our “bling” , our style, or our fame, but he cares about our connection to each other and how we treat each other. He seemed to “get” that he would rather have his parents than their presents for Christmas.
All of this leads me to this thought: Santa is not Jesus. Santa is related to Jesus in some way. Both are images of goodness and giving and expressing love. Santa’s gifts can be bought, sold, traded, fought over at the store, sold on e-bay for incredible amounts and any number of other things by unscrupulous adults. Sadly, there are a lot of con artists who would like people to believe the same is true about Jesus. For a “small fee” or a “gift to the TV ministry”, Jesus gifts can be had, too, according to them. “Jesus wants you to be wealthy and have “abundant life”!, they say. By this they mean “Jesus promises you a giant house and a nice car!”
In the old days, people used to say that Christmas was too commercialized. Now it’s so commercialized, we have forgotten that it used to be different. The Santa version of Christmas has won out over the Christ version of Christmas for most of America today. “Abundant Life” — for both secular folk and some religious folk — means houses, cars, fame, and fortune. In this world on Christmas , “love” equals “money” so that people with no money feel they can’t show their love.
The flip side of this is that people who do love their children can’t buy their kids presents because that would mean that they believe the dominant paradigm?
We have to change the question here if this is the case. Love is love and money is money. But sometimes, we express love with money — if we have it. And in Christ’s world, love is worth more than all the money in the world. Thus, the child born in a pile of straw surrounded by smelly shepherds is also spoken of glowingly by angels, even if his folks couldn’t buy a spot in the inn.
Children are loved not because they bring us money (they cost us that) and are not shown love with only money. People who think that money literally equals love are terribly disappointed when their children go up. All the money in the world can’t fill a child’s heart with the love and belonging and peace and joy in the way that simply being there does. Being trustworthy and faithful and loving and kind and moral and supportive — as God/Jesus is — makes love the norm, increases self-esteem and fights off mental illness. Seeing people as they truly are: worthy of love and capable of great things — despite or regardless of their surroundings or their image– is what Jesus does. That is the universal yearning.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t have celebrations or give gifts? No. It just means we should realize that we are the primary gift to our children. After that, it’s all gravy. Toys which come from our hearts (or Santa’s) are real gifts because the giver cares, knows the child, and responds. The child feels treasured, not bought.
BTW (and this is important) Christmas gifts have the same effect on teens and adults. Gifts are great and all (they really are), but after awhile nice gifts from a mean-spirited, uncaring, or unconnected person become hollow while even a chintzy gift from a treasured person holds real meaning. In short, you can only buy a person for so long before they see right through it. If you have no money, you’ll just have to give love. There’s no reason to feel guilty, because you’re not depriving your children. You’re giving them what they want most in the world — an experience of Christ.