Recently, someone asked, ‘What do Santa and reindeer have to do with the birth of Christ?” Well, maybe on the surface, not much. But let me explain. The whole Santa thing may be just a game we play with our children, but it’s a fun game, and what it represents is related very strongly to the real meaning of Christmas.
When we were children, we believed in the magic of a guy in a red suit who came down the chimney and left presents under the tree. (Er. Some of us still do.) We were open to possibilities, to imagination. Anything was possible. Even when reality was bad, there was that hope that something good might happen. In the Christmases with my foster parents, my sister and I found that hope. We loved their family traditions: the cookies and milk left out for Santa, the carrot for Rudolph, acting out the story of the nativity, singing carols, eating a special dinner, and more. Every year we read certain books, like ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ and watched special movies, like ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’ We hoped that we’d get that certain present that we wanted, and often we did. We kept our lists short: we knew money was tight. But it was more than the presents: it was the gathering of family, the love shown between us, and the fun we shared by pretending.
My husband and I continued the fun with our own children. We took the kids, gathered up some friends, and went caroling. We made cookies, cinnamon rolls, and banana bread and delivered plates of goodies to our neighbors. We played doorbell ditch, leaving anonymous gifts on people’s doorsteps while racing back to the car, barely able to contain our giggles. We read the children’s letters to Santa and got excited about finding that extra special something they wanted. On Christmas Eve, we invited friends who didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas to come over for dinner. Family and friends arrived, and after the meal we all dressed up and acted out the Nativity, amid comments such as ‘Why do I have to be the donkey?’ and ‘Why is the angel’s name Lo?’ Our enthusiastic and often off-key singing was accompanied by Grandma on the piano. On Christmas morning, we so enjoyed watching our children’s faces when they opened their presents. Most of the gifts themselves are forgotten, but some that stand out are that special doll that our daughter wanted, the bicycle that had to be put together, and the puppy who joyously greeted us by peeing under the tree. The best presents we received were the simple, handmade gifts that represented a child’s love, like the ceramic dog my son made in school (I always liked to get books too) or the funny presents, like the boxes of sugar cereal or the singing Santa Claus. We have so many fond memories of Christmases past. We had fun. It was a great game.
It is when we give in to mass hysterical consumerism that Christmas loses its real meaning. The grinding wheels of society would have us start our shopping earlier and earlier. Black Friday is scary, with its long lines and people trampling each other to get to the deal first. Holiday music shrieks at us from every store’s speakers, saying Buy, buy, buy. Christmas lists get longer as children demand more and more. (How many gifts does one person really need?) We wear ourselves out buying more and more, and doing more and more. We overdecorate our houses, string up thousands of lights, bake hundreds of cookies, and do more and more parties. We end up exhausted, cranky, and empty. When this happens, we have lost the magic. We have substituted things for love.
This Christmas, do something a little different. Stop. Get off the consumerism merry-go-round, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what really matters. Give a needed service to those around you. Forgive someone you have a grudge against. Spend time with your spouse and children doing simple things like reading a story, or making paper chains, or singing songs. Establish traditions that bind you together. Give gifts anonymously to a family who needs help. Smile at people. Listen to someone who needs to talk. Gather a group of friends and go caroling. Reach out to those who are alone and invite them to share this time with you. Shorten your ‘I want’ lists. Go through your clothes and donate them. Give to a charity that will help with disaster relief. Go and visit the elderly or those hospitalized.
Christmas is about love, showing others love through our giving, in honor of the One who gave everything for us. This year, go and find the real magic of Christmas.