And so another Christmas approaches, and my thoughts on the holiday continue to go through their continuous evolution. For the past few years, I’ve developed a rather cynical attitude towards this time of year and what it’s become for me. Thanks to my family, I had an incredible childhood, and many of my best and most vivid childhood memories revolve around Christmas. Various TV specials I loved, the anticipation of Christmas morning, the food, the presents, the church pageants & music, it truly was the best day of the year; there was nothing better (although Halloween was stiff competition.) It was wonderful! Perhaps that’s why when the magic stopped, it became that much more painful. What made it so special as a child, besides the specific nostalgic elements, at first was the magical belief in Santa Claus, combined with the childlike fuzziness brought on by the Jesus story. No connection was made in my tiny mind between the two, and there needn’t be…Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, and it was a day for ‘giving and getting’ as it literally says so in my 3rd grade diary. There was a fascination and mystery behind lighting the advent candles and playing with nativity sets, but the real excitement lay in what I was gonna get that morning. That was the real reason I couldn’t sleep and agonized through the long, torturous hours of peeking at that tree in the dark. Eventually I figured out through simple logic that Santa wasn’t real, and after confirming that with my parents, all that was left was the presents. On into the teen years, and Jesus wasn’t in the picture anymore either…he was shut out, and I never really knew him anyway; I liked him but didn’t understand why he had to show up in the first place. With Santa gone and Jesus gone, and presents ending up on a list I gave to everyone, there was still excitement, TV specials, and Mom’s awesome cinnamon bread, but all that was left were the presents, which I had asked for and expected, so there were usually very few surprises. Though I was happy to receive what I had asked for, in some of my later Christmases during high school and college there was an empty feeling when it was all over. Now Jesus, Santa, and the same childlike excitement of presents were gone, so what was left? Family. Togetherness of family was what Christmas meant; it always did for me. But at that time, even that was beginning to be a disappointment. We were supposed to be together and happy, but we were divided, and Christmas only emphasized that. I even ended up having to work at my movie theater job one Christmas evening during college, and got so depressed I literally made myself sick. What was the best day of the year in my youth actually made me barf as a young adult. I still get sick thinking about it.
The past few years have been a slow healing process from this time period of what Christmas became. Combined with the personal issues has been the simple sociological observance of how commercialized it all is, and how miserable it makes everyone else. I’ll admit the sappy songs, dumb jokes, terrible movies and commercials have turned me into a regular Scrooge. But what has helped with the healing is the fact that for the past 5 years, Jesus has been introduced back into the picture, and he’s given me a wife who loves Christmas for its true meaning (and loves decorating for it) with all of her heart and doesn’t let me stay a Grinch for very long. So that has certainly brought me out of the funk, but it’s still a work in progress at times. I believe that having children will help even more, because we will have blank slates to fill with the joy of Christmas that we both remember as children. It will be that joyous again.
The only remaining issue I’ve had to struggle with is Santa. It’s the thorn that has stuck inside me for awhile now, what to do with him? My heart’s discovery of the true meaning of Christmas only fuels the fire of the annoying materialism behind the season, and the Santa sell-out has been no exception. As much as I treasure my childhood memories, I still feel that I was tricked into the continual focus of every year being “What I want for Christmas.” Because Jesus was there too for awhile, luckily I was still taught that it’s better to give than receive, but at the same time I was being taught to focus more on what I wanted to receive. Not that receiving is necessarily bad in itself either, but for a child this contradiction is all too psychologically confusing. I believe that God in His infinite wisdom knew that I have been searching for an answer to these questions, and placed me in a ‘Church in Motion’ Sunday school class where Pastor Dave gave us an article that hit the nail exactly on the head of what I’ve been feeling. After tracing the history and origins of the real St. Nicholas and the pop icon he became, it tackled the issues raised by what the culture has done with him, and suggested alternatives for dealing with it. These suggestions, which include traditions and activities that focus more on who “Santa Claus” really was and what he did, are what I want to teach our children and incorporate into our future Christmases for years to come. Every passing year I feel more free.