Let’s face it. Christmas can be a confusing time for kids. When children are little, they believe in Santa, the North Pole and the elves. They also believe in the Christ Child, the manger, the shepherds and the star.
As children grow older, they begin to understand that some Christmas stories are myths. How can we keep our children from connecting or confusing the reality of Christmas with the magical fantasies of Christmas — from thinking that, perhaps, Christ might also be a myth?
We want our kids to be excited about making their Christmas lists, writing to Santa and receiving their gifts, but we also want them to understand the true meaning of Christmas and feel the spirit of giving. How can we help our children get excited about giving to others?
The best way to solve these conundrums is to clearly separate the myth of Santa and the reality of Christ — to separate the getting part of Christmas from the giving part — in the minds of our children. Here’s how:
When kids begin to ask about whether or not Santa is real, tell them Santa is “real-imaginary.” In other words, he is a real and wonderful myth or story that helps us feel the magic and mystery of Christmas. Santa represents happiness, goodness and sharing, and he helps us develop our imaginations and feel good and deserving of gifts. Like tales of the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, it is fun to have those North Pole stories and to enjoy those Santa myths.
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is very, very different from Santa because He is “real-real.” He actually was born on earth to Mary and Joseph, giving us the greatest gift of all. His story, with the innkeeper, the manger, the star and the wise men, is the truest and most important story of all time.
Make sure your kids know that it is OK to think of both Santa and Jesus at Christmastime but that the two are not the same. One is a fun story in our imaginations, and the other is the greatest true story of all time. (To see the results of this kind of discussion with a 10-year-old, click here.)
Since it is so hard to integrate the very different Christmas joys of getting and of giving in the same Christmas morning ritual, separate them! On Christmas Eve, put all of the focus on giving and on Christ's story. Have a “Bethlehem Supper” and dress as shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph. Serve only fish, flatbread and figs — things Mary’s family might have eaten on the night before she and Joseph left on their journey to Bethlehem.
Try turning off the lights and use only candles. Sit around the table and role-play as you eat together. With “Joseph” there as a guest, talk about the long journey ahead. Will the donkey make it? Do they have reservations at a hotel or inn? How long will they be gone? Why do they have to go so far to pay taxes anyway? After dinner, act out the manger scene, complete with angels, shepherds and wise men.
Gather around the Christmas tree and open only the gifts from the children. Focus entirely on the gift giver. “Oh, just what I wanted! How did you know? Wow, did you make this? You found such perfect gifts.” Let each child have a turn giving his gifts, and let each child revel in the joy of giving.
Having focused Christmas Eve entirely on Jesus and the joy of giving, you can then shift to Santa, stockings and the joy of getting on Christmas morning! There is indeed room for both Jesus and Santa at Christmastime, but parents have to be careful to separate the two in the minds of their children!
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors and the founders of JoySchools.com who speak throughout the world on marriage and parenting issues. Their two new books are The Turning, and The Thankful Heart. See Valuesparenting.com