The magic of Santa, Jesus, and 5-year-olds

Christmas is my favorite time of year for so, so many reasons. Christmas with small children is just magical and fun – because Santa, let’s face it, is 100% pure magic. I don’t mean that I believe that a fat man crawls down our chimney while we are sleeping, even though – as I tell Millie all the time – it’s hard to disbelieve something that hasn’t yet been disproven. Just because Santa has never crawled down my chimney, doesn’t mean that he hasn’t crawled down someone else’s.

So, until proven wrong: I’m still a believer. 

The most magical thing about Santa – I think – is how an entire culture will toe the line with a startlingly degree of consistency. In the 10 years that adults have been talking to my children, not a single one has leaked the truth about Santa. Not a one. And I think that’s 100% crazy. I mean, magical. 100% magical.

Aside from the magic of Santa, one of my most favorite things of the Christmas season, especially with small children, is that I am guaranteed a little window into how kids’ brains sort out the relationship between Santa Claus and Jesus. We make this super complicated for children, I’ll admit. And if you have read my book, you know that when Sam was five years old, he matter-of-factly told Millie that ‘Santa brings presents because Jesus died.’ I love this so much, I can hardly stand it.

This year it is especially confusing for my children because we have found ourselves renting a house from a family with a lovely collection of Jewish children’s books. My 5-year-old Danny and I are thoroughly enjoying this new book collection and we spent most of the Advent season learning about Yom Kippur, Shabbat, mitzvahs, and Hanukkah. When we eventually ran through the Jewish books, we were both feeling disappointed and surprisingly unexcited about any other books on the shelves. 

But then I spotted the Desmond Tutu children’s bible that Matt and I have been meaning to review. If Danny wants a Jewish book, I have just the story for him! What could be more Jewish than the story of Jesus? With very little persuading, he was on board.

Me: Danny, you should read this children’s bible with Daddy tonight. I’m not sure if you remember, but Jesus is Jewish!

Danny: Oh! We can read that one then. (And Danny skipped away into the bedroom to find Matt for bedtime reading.)

Danny: Hey Dad, did you know that Santa is Jewish?

Matt: Santa? Jewish? Hmmm, I don’t think so, buddy. I actually think Santa is Turkish.

Danny: Oh, wait. What is that other guy’s name? Starts with a ‘G’?

Matt: You mean, Jesus?

Danny: Yes, that guy!

(For two parents who created a children’s religious formation program, we have a lot of explaining to do.)

I will admit – with some reluctance and an abundance of shame – that we have not done a great job this year of focusing on Jesus, the church, and the real meaning of Christmas. We are in between churches, and it’s left us feeling a little off-beat in the religion department. Against our better judgement, Santa has filled that void like you wouldn’t believe. I can see why – for many people – Jesus is put on the back burner at this time of year. If you don’t work at it, Santa and the consumerism of Christmas can really take over. 

Even though I failed miserably at focusing on Jesus this Christmas season, I think there is more to the Christmas message than getting the story straight with my kids. Our current events give us plenty to think about how Jesus and the Christmas season can play out in our everyday lives. Despite still seeing the holy family portrayed as white, blonde and blue-eyed in the media and in mainstream culture, Jesus and his family were a disempowered ethnic group who fled to Egypt as refugees. Oppression and immigration are the central theme of the Christmas story – and coincidentally – a central theme of America today. 

The reason for this season’s celebration is a newborn baby, an oppressed family, and God allowing him or herself to be made human in this family’s miracle. If God were to show herself today, where might we find her? Perhaps God would appear at our nation’s border or in our poorest school district, in homeless shelters or addiction treatment centers. She might appear around kitchen tables where people mourn the loss of their life’s savings to a medical emergency, or the loss of their children to police brutality.

The message of Jesus is not just a matter of historical accuracy, theological fluency, or the ability to remember that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’ It’s taking this magical, unlikely story of God appearing in the most vulnerable and oppressed among us, and giving these neighbors in need the same love, attention, and good will that we would want for ourselves, and that we so easily bestow upon Jesus – and Santa Claus – during this magical season of Christmas.

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