X-Mas, Santa, and the Red-Herrings of Christmas

Although labeled as a time of peace, many spiritual battles go on this time of year. Christians will want to choose their battles wisely.

Often marked as a time of peace, this time of year, the Christmas season, can also generate some bitter debate.  If there is any question about this, one need only look to the entrance of the Lincoln tunnel in New York City this year.  Atheists and Catholic organizations alike have taken out billboard space promoting their beliefs.  The Atheist billboard reads, “You KNOW it’s a myth.  This season, celebrate reason.” The Catholic billboard reads, “You KNOW it’s real.  This season, celebrate Jesus.” This is the basic argument between all Christians and non-Christians., i.e. is this story real?

The debate doesn’t stop there though.  Seeking to promote Jesus as “the reason for the season,” many Christians fight diligently on different fronts.  Some Christians choose to align all of their troops and weapons on the “Happy Holidays” front and see it as their mission to make sure everyone says, “Merry CHRISTmas” as opposed to the more ambiguous seasonal greeting.  This war has been highlighted in recent years by the “X-Mas” controversy.

So how evil really is writing “X-Mas?”  Christians range from some thinking it’s not that bad since an “X” is a cross-like reminder of what Christ came to do, to some thinking this is undeniably the devil’s stamp on a godless culture.  I guess it all depends on your motives.

The “Happy Holidays” and “X-Mas” controversy isn’t for everyone though.  Many other Christians seek to fight on the Santa Claus front to preserve the holiday’s integrity.  Some will even argue that the word “Santa” is some sort of divine, metaphysical word scramble that is secretly telling us that “Santa” is from “SATAN,” just as the scrambled letters told us!

But let me ask you this: If I told you that “God” spelled backwards is “dog,” so therefore I believe all dogs are holy, you’d think I was crazy, right?  Please understand what well-intentioned arguments like “Santa means Satan” sound like to the rest of the world – nonsense.   And if these are the best arguments we’re presenting to warn against the dangers of materialism, then the world probably has a right to think that we are indeed crazy.

As to the issue of whether or not Christians should promote “Santa Claus” in their own homes to their own children…………this is a parental call.  And frankly, while I certainly want to think through potential dangers, like obsession with materialism, I really don’t have the right to draw a line here for others.

This is sort of like the Harry Potter debate of several years ago when the books first came out.  Many Christian parents were up in arms that these books were encouraging children to walk through the doors of witchcraft exploration.  Statistically, that hasn’t been the case, at least thus far.  But, if parents feel that reading Harry Potter novels present a very real danger to their child, they are entirely within their rights to refrain from it.  If I had a child that I knew struggled to separate reality from make-believe or if I had a child who was forever experimenting with anything that he could get his hands on, I might very well say that these books are off-limits.  However, if I have a different child, and I think books like this might help generate a passion for reading as well as generate good discussions about what is real and what is fiction or superstition, I might very well be open to it.  Both parents can glorify God in their decisions.

When it comes to Santa, I don’t see anything that biblically prohibits it.  Are there potential dangers?  Of course.  If I think that Santa Claus presents a real danger to my child from understanding that Christmas is about celebrating my Savior’s arrival, I will not only do away with Santa, I will do away with Christmas gifts in general, big festive meals, Christmas trees, and everything else.  (Ask me some time for my opinion about giving young adults money for confirmation and you’ll get more than you ever wanted to hear concerning my spiel on confusing priorities at a critical moment :).)  Loving Christian parents will naturally eliminate ANYTHING in a child’s life that is clearly pulling a child away from the truth.

HOWEVER, if parents are already inclined to allow for some fantasy in their child’s life (Sesame Street, cartoons, etc.), and they see Santa as an occasion to teach about hope, kindness, generosity, and supernatural provision, as it is most beautifully expressed by our loving God, then yes, it would seem that would be an occasion of glorifying God as well.  I guess it all depends on your motives.

As a Christian, it’s easy to get frustrated this time of year.  We know what should be on people’s hearts and minds.  We know that it’s not always on people’s hearts and minds (including, most disappointingly, our own).  And this is all very frustrating to us.  So we end up picking pious-sounding battles that, in the end, don’t truly do a whole lot to change people’s hearts.

I’ve never heard of nor read of one study chronicling one single person falling from faith or refusing to come to faith as a result of the phrase “X-Mas” being used in place of “Christmas.”  I have, however, known individuals and seen statistics on those who fall away as a result of pluralism and universalism – failing to recognize Jesus Christ as the one path to salvation, what “X-Mas” could be a symptom of.

I’ve never heard of nor read of one study chronicling one single person falling from faith or refusing to come to faith as a result of the promoting of Santa Claus.  I have, however, known individuals and seen statics on those who fall away because the love of money and material things have crowded a love of Christ from their heart, what Santa nowadays could be a symptom of.

The battles that I’ve been mentioning all sort of fall into a category that I like to call “bumper sticker theology” – a pious-sounding spiritual fight that, even if won, probably won’t accomplish a whole lot.  So, for example, I may have a really great spiritual argument on a bumper-sticker, but due to its context, how many hearts is it realistically going to change?  It’s theoretically possible…….but not likely.  Now, let me make this very clear: there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with wearing a cross necklace or having a Jesus fish on your bumper or something else that may fall into this category.  I recognize that the motivation is generally to demonstrate that I’m not afraid to state that I’m a Christian and I’m proud of it – clearly a good thing.  Personally, my standing joke is always that the reason I don’t have the Jesus fish on my bumper is that my aggressive driving is probably not my best witnessing opportunity, i.e. I don’t want the last impression someone has of me accidentally cutting them off in traffic to be, “Oh, and that guy’s a Christian.”

Jokes aside, while there’s obviously nothing wrong with wearing a cross necklace or sporting a Jesus fish, I simply can’t let that be the extent of my Christian witnessing and believe that I’m making an impact, if for no other reason than the fact that I’ve never heard one legitimate account of a person coming to faith or being strengthened in faith as a result of a cross necklace, cross tie, or a Jesus fish.  And there could be something just a little strange about promoting the fact that I’m a Christian through some external action, without desiring for that promotion to be of direct spiritual benefit to others.  Historically, that sounds a little more Pharisaical than Christian.  That certainly doesn’t have to be the case, but it could be.  I’m sure we all have met someone who considers himself/herself a child of God, wears a cross necklace, and regularly conducts his/her life in a way that is contradictory to God’s will.

It appears as though “Happy Holidays” and “X-Mas” and “Santa” could be more of Christmas red-herrings than anything – issues that distract us from the bigger issues at this time of year.  We live in a world so polluted by sin that people are gasping for the news of Christ and the love of Christ.  If forcing people to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” isn’t reasonably going to help get one more person in heaven, then maybe my efforts are best concentrated elsewhere.  In fact, while I haven’t heard of one person being turned on to Christianity by someone squashing “Happy Holidays” or eradicating Santa, there are plenty of people who are turned off of the Christian faith by self-righteousness and hypocrisy of Christians.  The truth is that if I’d take all the time and energy that I do getting bent out of shape about the red-herrings of Christmas and transfer that energy into growing more obedient to God’s commands, i.e. loving God above all things and loving my neighbor like myself, I’d be a significantly better Christian witness.  If the world saw, in me, a better likeness of Jesus, they’d probably have no doubt that this incredible Jesus character is truly the reason for celebrating the holiday.  God forgive my shortcomings and my misguided battles.

But that’s really what this season is about, right?  It’s understanding that there is divine hope, kindness, generosity, and supernatural provision (Santa qualities, if you will), expressed to us all.  God has wrapped himself with the paper of human flesh and the ribbons of human ligaments, and he’s arrived to deliver himself to the tree that we often call a cross.  Forgiveness has arrived in our lives.  God loves us enough that not only does he give us good gifts, but he himself is the gift.  And there is no legislation, no political correctness, no fictional character on the planet that can stop Christians from celebrating that at Christmas.

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” (Galatians 4:4-5 – New Living Translation)

I know these are issues that many get fired up about.  If you’d like to weigh in with your opinion, please feel free to comment below 🙂

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3 thoughts on “X-Mas, Santa, and the Red-Herrings of Christmas

  1. Brian Schuessler says:

    Excellent post. Such a good reminder for us this time of year.

    I always take Xmas to be the Greek manifestation in English (Xpist in Greek is Christ in English).

    Finally, the importance of the Christmas season was brought home to me last Sunday on a plane ride sitting next to an Orthodox Jew. Without a celebration of Christ’s birth and Christ as my Savior I am lost. It doesn’t matter that he celebrates Hanukkah or that I have a tree in my living room, but it does matter that I recognize Jesus’ birth as the only hope for my soul, and that his refusal to recognize Jesus as anyone but a fraud is eternally detrimental to his. May our hearts be moved to celebrate Christ at Christmas and every season of every year.

  2. Angela says:

    Thank you for this well-written post. I have been struggling a bit this Christmas season with the whole Santa debate. Our son is quite obsessed with Santa this year, but I am finding that I am having a hard time determining how to explain Jesus and other spiritual topics to a 2 year old :S Maybe you have some suggestions?

  3. Jenny says:

    Merry Christmas! :). I have read this oldie but goodie a few times and I’ve always wanted to ask you if you could blog on the topic of giving money for confirmation. Would love to hear your insight. Thank you for taking the time to share your wonderful life connections to the Word of God. May God bless your coming year.

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