Yesterday talking to Carrie I realized how much of a paradox I am, especially at Christmas. I loathe the materialism associated with the season, but I keep my eye on Amazon. I dislike the moralism that comes from Santa and the Elf on the Shelf, but I still ask Sam to be a “good boy.” I weep at the secular takeover and Christless culture at Christmas, but I wait in line with Sam to see Santa. For most of us, it takes a very fine line to walk between being a Grinch and being Buddy the Elf. If we’re not careful, we can fall into one of these two pitfalls.
The Grinch – Christian Christmas Grinches are everywhere. They’re yelling at store clerks that it’s not “Happy Holidays,” they’re posting blogs showing pictures of crushed Christmas elves, they cite obscure Church Fathers to demonstrate the paganism of Christmas trees, organize rallies when a Nativity scene gets replaced in a public school, and they smile and nod when the Church Lady from SNL reminds us all that Santa is an anagram for Satan. Christian Christmas Grinches are always on the lookout for things to point out that are problems at Christmas.
At many levels, I really appreciate what this camp does. With them I would agree whole-heatedly that something is really wrong. With them I would agree that we have gone away from the worship of the Infant Christ to the worship of Tickle-Me-Elmo (or whatever the hot toy of the year is). I’d agree that the Elf on the Shelf (besides being a little strange), and the other “be a good boy/girl so Santa brings you things” leads to a false view of morality. And on their main point that we need to put the Christ in CHRISTmas, yes. But let’s remember the difference between worshiping and serving our Savior, and getting our way with a minimum-wage worker while buying a bunch of stuff that we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like (HT: Tyler Durden).
Buddy the Elf – Buddy the Elf Christians are the ones who camp out on black Friday, try to out-do the Griswolds with Christmas lights, have more tacky sweaters than days of the week, and get just as excited as toddlers when Santa comes out. Christmas becomes the opportunity to mail a Christmas Card to every Facebook friend you’ve ever had, to buy gifts for every obscure relative you may or may not know, to take out a home equity loan to cover gifts, and to bake enough cookies to feed the Chinese Army. Nothing to do with Christmas is off-limits to this tribe.
Just like the Grinches, there is a lot to be admired about this tribe. For one, they’re really fun to be around. They get that this is to be a festive, fun, and happy season. They recognize that joy is important for children, and that watching kids open presents is one of the most fun things to watch. They try to be wise shoppers and not pay too much for things, looking for a great deal. But, let’s remember that the season is not an invitation to pursue excess and to completely buy into everything without using discernment.
So how do you strike a balance between these two, and seek to live as a Christian in a fallen world? I want to propose 5 ways to navigate this:
Figure out where you are with Santa – Each family needs to come up with what they think of Santa. Whether you’re a fan or not, really think about your position but more importantly why. We have friends who don’t do Santa, and their reason is they want to put as much emphasis and focus on Jesus as they can, even throwing Jesus a “birthday party” on Christmas morning, complete with funfetti cake. In our house, we do Santa, but we are very quick to point out and emphasize that Christmas is about Jesus being born, and that Santa loves Jesus. We avoid using the “be a good boy so Santa brings you stuff” and instead teach Sam to behave and obey because God smiles when he obeys.
Use moderation – All the good things that God has given us have been given to us to use in moderation. Rather than become a Buddy the Elf or a Grinch, find a middle ground and enjoy Christmas, decorations, food, gifts, and shopping in a moderate and reasonable way. Stay within your budget, avoid credit cards as much as possible, and put down the 100th thing in your cart at Hobby Lobby. Don’t send cards to everyone in your area code, and don’t overcommit your calendar with parties and socials and events (which keep you out of your house so you don’t see your decorations).
Be gracious with those you differ from – All of us have positions on a variety of issues, especially at Christmas. But we must remember that with those we have disagreements over Christmas issues, let’s remember to pursue charity and grace. If someone falls into an unhealthy or destructive pattern, that’s different from your traditions being different than someone else’s. Avoid making snarky comments on blogs (or writing snarky blogs) that are passive-aggressive. Be nice.
Develop Christ-centered traditions – Put Jesus at the center of everything you do as a family this Christmas. If you’ve never celebrated Advent, use the 4 Sundays in December (well, 3 remaining) to gather and read about Jesus, sing songs, and pray. There are lots of great Advent resources out there. Here are a few: Good News of Great Joy, Celebrate Advent (Focus on the Family), Advent (Village Church), Advent for Families
Have fun, make memories, and enjoy it – Above all else, have fun. This is a celebration of God entering into our Story through the Immanuel. Christmas celebrates the fact that the long-awaited Redeemer has arrived. And Christmas points towards a cross where all of us who have trusted in Christ find our hope, joy, peace, and fulfillment. This should cause us to rejoice, eat ham, and drink egg nog while watching Rudolph and wrapping presents.