As Christmas approaches, we thought it would be a good time to revisit this Growing Faith article and help Christian parents navigate the festive season...
So, how do you talk about Santa at home?
Penny: Leading up to Christmas we place presents under the tree for each other and extended family. Then on Christmas Eve 'Santa' fills stockings with lollies and small simple gifts. We tell our children that we’re only pretending Santa is real, but Jesus is really real. They love it that we all play this game together. Steve dressed up as Santa with a shaving cream beard one year, and they still talk about it, even though they knew it was him. Last year Santa gave Annika a book about the historical Nicholas.
Steve: The advantage of this approach is that we not only teach honesty and fun to our children but we never reach a day where they find out that Santa isn't real and that we’ve lied to them.
Penny: I don’t think there’s any reason to reject Santa completely, since he’s a link to the rest of society. Playing Santa doesn’t stop people hearing about Jesus. We avoid singing ‘happy birthday’ to Jesus, because it seems to reduce Jesus to a cartoon-like character, rather than the King of the universe. Our kids may not yet understand the word ‘incarnation’ but even the smallest understands we’re celebrating Jesus becoming a human in order to save us. If we teach the kids that we’re wishing Jesus a happy birthday, then it’s only something to correct when they grow older.
How do you encourage your children to be generous?
Steve: Our children buy presents for the immediate family using their own money. They’re enthusiastic about choosing the perfect present for each other. At church we donate all our Christmas offertories to those in need around the world, this year the horn of Africa. We encourage our children to be part of this and to give. All of that is on top of encouraging them to be giving a proportion of their money all year as they receive it.
Penny: The children also enjoy preparing Operation Christmas Child boxes. They also donate to Anglicare by placing gifts under the tree at playgroup and preschool/school. I make sure the gift is something they would love to keep for themselves and maybe something I would love to buy them.
Do you feel pressure to be giving your children the latest gadgets?
Steve: I think our children may be a bit young to be really pushing for technology so we haven't felt it so much. I think they also understand that their friends at school are likely to live in families not only with larger budgets than ours but also with different priorities. So while they might talk about how great their friend's gadgets are they don't really ask for them. At least not yet...
Penny: Bah-humbug to gadgets. I’m an Early Childhood Teacher and electronic gadgets are repulsive to me. I love picture books, lego and matryoshka dolls. I’m tempted to buy good quality toys. I feel no pressure to match what their friends have - apparently a child at school gets $50 for each tooth that falls out! I’m the one who puts up with our kids begging for more stuff.
Hmmm...maybe they haven’t yet realised that Dad’s the one to nag for gadgets!
Do you ever engage in the charity-style giving where you give a card that says "you've bought a sheep for someone in need"?
Steve: I don't like that type of giving. You're telling someone that they're special to you, so you will spend a certain amount of money on them, but that you don't think they need the gift so you've given it to someone else. I feel like you're just telling the person that they're not special. I like the idea of giving someone a much cheaper present (like making a special cake or meal) and then giving the surplus away. That way, you're being generous in secret (which Jesus likes) but you're also putting time into the person that you want to show appreciation for.
How much do you think parents should spend on their children at Christmas?
Steve: I don't think there should be a set answer for this. I think at both extremes there are problems. Thinking that you will buy affection and relationship with gifts, or trying to compensate for your shortfalls as a parent with gifts is a danger. Denying your children the joy of giving and receiving and the pure fun of Christmas is also missing one of God's pleasures. I think it might actually be the wrong question. I think your previous questions to do with generosity and a culture of love and generosity within the family will guide wise decisions regarding how much to spend.
Penny: Steve answers this question so calmly, but it’s the one I agonise over! Steve and I are so different when it comes to money. I don’t want to buy anything we don’t need and I tend to feel guilty about everything I buy. It’s different when it comes to presents. My reasons for wanting to spend have nothing to do with (male?) concepts such as buying love or compensating. I LOVE giving presents and I LOVE toys...oh, and I love my kids. There are so many great toys, so many great picture books and it’s tempting to buy them all for my kids. I think gift-giving is a great way to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but I don’t want to spend too much. I think the reason we don’t have a set budget for our kids’ presents is because Steve knows I’ll always spend less than if we set a precise amount.
For me, the answer has to be that I should spend less on my children at Christmas than I want to. This is because:
1. I can express my love for them with fewer presents.
2. They don’t need all the things I’m tempted to buy.
3. It’s better for them to NOT get everything they ever want, so they don’t become addicted to amassing material possessions.
What do you do on Christmas day?
Steve: The same as Easter - we tell our children that the most important thing is to gather with our church to celebrate Jesus coming to save us. We go to church on Christmas morning, and then go to either set of parents. We alternate each year. It's an early morning, of course, as the kids get up to discover that 'Santa' has visited and 'Rudolf' has eaten the carrot etc.
How do you think Christmas day will change as your children approach adulthood?
Steve: We might start hosting a meal at our house each Christmas, so we can have some of our church family join us on Christmas day. Our extended family could also be invited. But we're still working that out. We will obviously give our children increasing responsibility and independence but we'll encourage them to keep exactly the same priorities as above. Being generous, meeting with the church, being authentic, but having fun with the family should all be part of Christmas.
Penny: I hope we’ll be able to get to sleep quicker on Christmas Eve when they’re older. That’s not the royal ‘we’ – how can I sleep when I think of those exciting toys I’m giving?
We might spend less and give more away, but we’ll always celebrate Jesus’ birth with gift-giving as part of our celebrations.