My wife and I don't do Santa. Long before we had little ones who would care about the "jolly old elf," we decided to eschew the white beard and fur-trimmed hat and bottomless bag of toys. We're not taking a stance or fighting the spectre of consumerism or attacking anyone who decides to play along with Old Saint Nick. We just didn't want the distraction. Keeping Jesus at the center is enough of a challenge without bellies like a bowl full of jelly getting in the way. (For the record, our girls still get hyped on Christmas Day.)
Now, that doesn't mean we completely ignore Santa. Instead, we decided to teach our girls about Nicholas of Myra, whose Christian example is certainly worthy of study (I prefer the Nick that suffered for his faith and gave money to poor girls over the creepy one who knows if you're sleeping). From there, we tell them how his life became the (very loose) basis for the white, American Santa they see in the mall and on Polar Express.
It's that Anglo-Saxon image of Santa so prevalent in America that recently sparked a trending row on the Internet... over Jesus. Here's how we got there. On Slate, Aisha Harris suggested that we "abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man and create a new symbol of Christmas cheer. From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin." Why should we do that? "For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood." (No word on if the reindeer would be swapped for orcas.)
In response, Megyn Kelly of Fox News told her viewers why this idea was "off the rails." According to Kelly
“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.”
Contrary to Kelly's statement, Jesus took on flesh as a Mediterranean Jew. He would likely have had olive colored skin, dark eyes, and dark hair. But we shouldn't be too harsh on the host. After all, almost every depiction of Jesus in movies and on TV presents Him as white, sometimes with blue eyes and blond hair. In some ways, it's the Jesus that we're comfortable with that we see on the screen.
Jesus traveled the dusty roads of Judea with no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). He had no running water to shower in, His feet got caked with a type of road filth that isn't fit to talk about here, and He sweated under the hot Mediterranean sun. You could say He looked quite a bit like the wandering Teacher He was—and smelled like it, too. Not exactly a Hollywood Jesus.
But that sort of Jesus—the real one who walked the earth 2,000 years ago—reveals the true impact of Philippians 2. The Son of God humbled Himself to the form of a servant. For us to get back to that Jesus, we sometimes have to strip away our own ideas and see Him as He really was. Here's how Greg Laurie explains it:
The first thing we want to realize about God’s gift to us is that it came in simple wrapping. Some people will go to great lengths to wrap presents beautifully. But God’s gift came to us not in beautiful, ornate wrapping, but in a dirty manger found in a cold cave in a little-known town called Bethlehem.
That’s the beauty of the Christmas event. Jesus took His place in a manger so that we might have a home in heaven. The Savior was not wrapped in satin sheets, but in common rags. There in a manger rested the greatest gift in the plainest of wrapping.
You see, the main reason my family doesn't roll with the American Santa is because we're trying to keep things simple. We want to keep our girls focused on that Jewish baby in a rough-hewn manger in a tiny village—the One who came to save the world. But it's way too easy for all the other trappings to make us miss the simple birth of Immanuel and who He really is.
What about you? How do you keep your family focused on the true Jesus? And what are your thoughts about Santa?
John UpChurch is the senior editor of BibleStudyTools.com and Jesus.org. You’ll usually find him downing coffee at his standing desk (like a boss).