Jesus versus Santa

Jesus vs Santa, true meaning of Xmas

I’ve hesitated to write about the topic of Jesus vs Santa because it can be a surprisingly divisive topic in church and family cultures. However, the holiday season is upon us and I think it’s interesting and even helpful to hear differing perspectives on how parents handle the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as well.

Here’s mine.

The church cultures in which Mollie and I raised our kids have been theologically conservative, highly biblically literate, and conducive to sincere devotion in following Jesus. I got the impression over the years that our family held the minority position in those churches in that we openly practiced the Santa tradition. (Either that or there were a lot of parents doing Santa Claus and keeping quiet about it!)

For some no-Santa Christians, the idea of Christians practicing the Santa tradition can seem incomprehensible. I don’t care to sway anyone to my position, but for what it’s worth I thought I would share my reasons why my wife and I chose to follow this secular holiday tradition. Our reasons may surprise you, because they ultimately have to do with Jesus.

Following are my responses to the most common reasons I’ve heard for not observing the Santa tradition:

1) We want Jesus to be the focus of Christmas in our family
Indeed. Of course we wanted this for our family as well. However, it’s not an either/or issue. I know this because I was raised in a Christian home that kept the Santa tradition, yet I and all of my sibs love Jesus today, and none of us believes in Santa Claus anymore. I can remember as a kid that, even though my imagination excited me about Saint Nick, my parents also taught us that the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Jesus. I believed them, and it made perfect sense to me.

I definitely got the idea that Jesus and Santa Claus were somehow on the same team.

Later, as a young parent, I had what I saw as a strategic reason for keeping the Santa tradition. From the time my children were small, of course they learned about the story of Jesus and His birth. However, I knew they could only understand so much, and I certainly couldn’t expect them to sit around and stare at their navels pondering Jesus all Christmas season. So we enlisted Santa Claus to help make the season of Jesus’s birth more exciting for them. We knew they would eventually drop the Santa belief as they left childhood, but I believed there would remain with them very positive feelings and fun memories that they would carry with them into adulthood. The reason behind it all would always be Jesus.

I believe this has proved to be true.

2) I’m not comfortable lying to my kids
I completely agree with this one. Our kids assumed Santa was real mostly because of songs and stories and the input of extended family members. Christmas mornings pretty much convinced them. However, as they got older and directly questioned us, we made it a point to never to lie to them.

However, I used it as a way to encourage critical thinking. I told them that I wanted them to figure it out on their own. I told them that all of their lives people would tell them things that were not true and that they needed to learn how to discover what is true. This wasn’t a very satisfying answer to them, but then it became sort of a game. They would begin to give me arguments and I would try to argue the other side. If their argument was a good one, I would say “that’s a good argument!”

More importantly, for each child I also used this moment to underscore the truth, saying something like: “I will tell you this – the story of Jesus and everything in the Bible is definitely true, and Mom and I believe it.” I wanted them to be rock solid about that.

I think there is something very healthy about a child learning to critically engage in figuring out the truth, even when it is against his or her interest to do so.

3) Christmas is a pagan holiday. Christmas trees and Santa Claus have pagan origins.
I have always thought this was a lame argument for several reasons. Primarily, regardless of what December 25 meant many hundreds of years ago, today, in America, it is not a pagan holiday. For followers of Jesus it is a time of remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus.

True, no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. This is also irrelevant. So the church randomly picked a day to celebrate the birth of God’s Messiah. Or maybe the date is not so random, and the church picked a popular pagan holiday and redeemed it to become a holiday celebrating the true Creator. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Even today many Christians attempt to do the same thing with Halloween.

Christmas is arguably not a biblically condoned holiday, but that does not make it a harmful practice. Behind this objection there seems to be a concern that the whole of Christendom is somehow accidentally participating is false worship because of the holiday’s origins. But worship is intentional and conscious. I have yet to see biblical support for the idea of someone accidentally worshiping Satan. I’m willing to be proven wrong on this.

4) I don’t want to encourage materialism and selfishness in my kids.
Another great reason. We didn’t want to encourage those things either. I probably don’t need to say much here though. I think we all recognize that Christmas has become very commercialized and money driven. Many people go deeper into credit card debt during the Christmas season. Not good.

I’ve heard a lot of great strategies that families use to get around this. Some don’t do gift giving at all. Some do, but make a point to give to a needy family each year as well. Some work at a shelter as a family as part of their Christmas season, serving those less fortunate than they are. Some do gift giving but limit the dollar amount that can be spent. Please feel free to share your ideas or traditions in the comment section!

But as for the topic at hand, it certainly hasn’t been my experience that observing the Santa tradition will necessarily encourage materialism and selfishness. My opinion is that the example of the parents over the long haul is foremost in encouraging or discouraging a materialistic lifestyle. In fact, ironically, Santa only exists because of the generosity of parents toward their children. When children figure out that it was mom and dad all along, this arguably encourages gratitude and models selfless giving to them.

On the positive side, there are a couple of other reasons that proved to be quite important to Mollie and me when we were determining what our family culture would be around Christmastime:

Extended family
I was raised by devoted Christian parents. Had Mollie and I refused to practice the Santa tradition on “spiritual grounds” I think it would have created an unnecessary offense against my parents and siblings. There were other things more important to us that my parents didn’t understand, like breastfeeding, homeschooling, and eating a whole food/organic diet. Creating a rift over something as fun and harmless as Santa Claus would have been just been super-annoying to my family.

To see it from my mom’s perspective: she and her 6 siblings grew up in St. Louis with an alcoholic father. As a result she grew up impoverished, and quit school after the 8th grade to start working. She told us that when they were young, she and her siblings would sometimes each receive an orange for Christmas.

So when she married my dad, I think she tried to make holidays with her own children everything that she missed as a child. I have wonderful holiday memories from childhood, and I still love the Christmas season. I think my mom would’ve been hurt had I implied that I saw her efforts as harmful.

Xmas 1960's childhood, reason for the season

Christmas morning with my siblings, 1962.

Joyful, Joyful
In our family, Mollie and I wanted to tip the scales in favor of making the Christian holidays transcendent and irresistible; something that our kids would look forward to all year long. Santa Claus is unnecessary. If you don’t include Santa in your repertoire of holiday traditions, I fully respect your decision. However, I would encourage you to figure out ways to make the holiday season an exciting and transcendent time for your kids, so that they will grow up loving the season of Jesus’s birth.

Ultimately, we all hope to see our kids continue to love the person of Jesus Himself.

For me the bottom line on Santa is this: he’s a harmless, if shallow, part of American culture. If we can figure out ways to use harmless cultural traditions to our advantage, I think that’s a good thing.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

My illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus in fidelity to the Bible, beginning with creation and the fall. Orders should be received by Dec 5 to ensure delivery by Christmas (or, please email me directly me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)

Preview: Upcoming Kids’ Storybook

New Burbia-the Friendly City

This month I want to give you a glimpse of the new kids’ storybook on which I’ve been working.

But first, you may have noticed that it’s been well over a year since I’ve released a new storybook, so here’s a brief personal update:

Over the past couple of years, due to the deaths of some very close family members, some other family events, as well as the need to pay off some debts, I’ve been working a “real job” 4 days a week. I feel this is necessary for now in order for Mollie and me to get our financial house in order. Frankly, it’s been a nice break from having to generate self-employment income after 15 years of pursuing a fine art career.

The downside is that it’s making book production much slower.

Nonetheless, my next storybook, The Friendly City, is well under way. Following is a summary of the story:

The story is about a town called New Burbia. New Burbia is home to the best, safest, and most polite drivers in the world. One of the best things about living in the town is that the citizens drive fun and fanciful cars. Everyone follows the rules of the road and is able to get where they want to go. All of this makes New Burbia a great place to live.

One day a new mayor is elected and he has an idea that will make New Burbia even better. Since New Burbia is home to the best, safest, and most polite drivers in the world, he reasons that there is no need for the road signs and traffic lights in town. (Road signs are for bad drivers.) He has the signs removed and tells the people that they are free to drive how they feel is best. Of course, chaos ensues and the town becomes less friendly.

Eventually, some citizens come together and form The Caring Drivers Group. They commit to remembering the rules of the road and to treating other drivers with patience, respect, and kindness. Even though most drivers don’t join them, their presence makes New Burbia a better place to live.

Here are some of the New Burbian cars that were driven before the Mayor’s plan was implemented:

illustrated kids storybook

storybook illustration

illustration, rockets, vikings, hamsters

The Caring Drivers Group is a metaphor for the Church. The Church of Jesus exists, in part, to be God’s manifestation of His kingdom in the midst of a corrupt age. Rather than attempting to “fix” our broken world, the church exists as a light and an example as we invite people into relational unity with God and His people.

I thought it would fill a need to have a fun storybook that reinforces for kids the idea of a body of people that is not trying to fix the world, or impose a political or otherwise utopian solution onto society. Rather, we live as “aliens” within a broken culture, creating a subculture of love, caring, and truth, inviting people to join us.

I expect that The Friendly City will be released early next year (2018.) Of course I will keep you posted!

Please share your opinion with me on upcoming books!
I’d love to have your input as to future planned book releases. My plans include:

  1. The Drink – an original metaphorical story about a boy wandering the desert, checking out various water wells as he searches for “the living water” he has heard about. Based on Jesus’s description of himself as the living water.
  2. A New Family – a storybook that positively articulates God’s design for marriage as described by Jesus. This story is narrated by a little girl who is watching a wedding ceremony.
  3. The Emperor’s New Clothes – An updated/revised version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. I remember how this story made an impression on me as a child, and it remains as relevant as ever in a culture that seeks to pressure children to accept false assertions about life.
  4. An Easter/Passover storybook – Not written yet, but as a parent I found it difficult to find great picture books that celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
  5. A Kingdom of God storybook – Also not written yet. I would love to do a storybook for kids that explains in simple terms the kingdom of God that Jesus preached. This would include explaining His kingdom parables and other statements about the kingdom.
  6. The Kingdom of Light – (Not to be confused with the previous book) An original story about a stained glass window maker who lived in a dim kingdom. The villagers can’t see the beauty of the windows until light shines through them.

I would value your feedback on which of these storybooks you would like to see made available first. Do any of these in particular stand out as being more important to you, or as being more helpful to you as a parent, grandparent, or person of influence?

Please reply in the comment section. Thank you for your input!

storybook illustration-steam punk

Storybooks to Read With the Kids You Love. (Time to Order!)

the-annunciation-the-true-story-of-christmas

Three years ago I launched a kids’ storybook company. As an artist, writer, and father of five I became very excited about the possibility of producing beautifully illustrated storybooks that would help parents and grandparents instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the children they love!

One thing that is different about my company is that it is all online, through my website. Books are printed “on demand,” as they are ordered, which means I’m not selling my books through stores. (I tried that with my first book, Naomi’s Gift, and it wore me out!) I hope ordering through my website will be more convenient for you as well.

I’m sending this post out now because Christmas is coming, and if you are thinking of giving a storybook to someone as a gift, now would be a great time to order in order to ensure delivery in time for Christmas! (The official ordering deadline for my storybooks in hardcover is December 3rd.)

My newest book is called, The True Story of Christmas. I wasn’t able to deliver this book in time for Christmas last year, so if you passed on it then, it’s ready to go now.

The concept behind The True Story of Christmas:
Our family has accumulated a nice collection of Christmas books over the years. But I saw a place for a beautifully illustrated Christmas storybook for kids that would
1) place Christmas in the context of the bigger picture and explain why Jesus was born, and
2) tell the Christmas story in fidelity to the biblical narrative.

The True Story of Christmas is the result. The book begins with the story of God’s good creation and the subsequent fall of man, and frames Christmas as part of God’s plan to “fix His broken world”:

“The story of Christmas is about how God still loves us.
Christmas is about His good plan to create a way for us
to receive His love, light, and life again.”

The story continues, briefly introducing children to the nation of Israel and the Hebrew prophets, building anticipation for the coming of a promised child who would grow up to bring salvation and establish a good and eternal kingdom.

books for kids-Scott Freeman

As for fidelity to the biblical narrative, much of our understanding of the Christmas story comes to us from extra-biblical traditions, Christmas carols, and greeting cards. Without sounding picky or pretentious, The True Story of Christmas aims to remain true to the biblical account while retaining the excitement and charm of the Christmas story.

Perhaps the most noticeable example would be the Magi arriving at the house of Jesus as a small child in Bethlehem, rather than at the manger on the night of His birth.

The nativity-books for kids

Watercolor illustrations of the shepherds, and the wise men, from The True Story of Christmas.

CLICK HERE to order The True Story of Christmas!

Some other Christmas Items:
For those interested, this year I was able to upload some new designs for Christmas cards on the Zazzle site that Mollie and I share. This is a site that takes our original artwork and puts it on nice quality cards and other products. Visit our store, (The Loveland Company,) and browse around. Also, as a gift idea, I will mention that I have ordered coffee mugs from Zazzle, and they came out GREAT! You can check out my coffee mug designs as well.

As you will see, some of the Christmas cards (as well as some everyday cards) use imagery from my kids’ books. Below are some of the new Christmas cards:

The Loveland Company-Zazzle

CLICK HERE to visit the Zazzle store.

An update on my storybook business:
If you’ve been subscribed to my BigPicturePublishing.com site for long, you may have noticed that I did not release a new storybook this year. The reason is that 2015 was an unusually trying year for Mollie and me as we both lost very close family members and experienced a number of other difficulties. Consequently we’ve taken a break from the stress of self-employment for a while, and are both working full time for the first time in 15 years. This has been a great time of catching our breath and catching up, but unfortunately has not allowed me much time to work on new books.

However, my next title, The Friendly City, is written and ready to illustrate. I’m quite excited about it and I’ll keep you posted as the painting begins. I think I’m getting close to being able to start the artwork. If you’re a new visitor to BigPicturePublishing.com, and you haven’t already done so, please sign up in the blue box to receive notification of when new books are ready, as well as an occasional blog post. Signing up does not obligate you purchase anything.

As the world grows more confusing for children and more hostile to followers of Jesus, it’s more important than ever that we instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids that are in our care. I would love to play a part in that task by providing great tools for parents and grandparents. CLICK HERE to see descriptions of all my kids’ storybooks.

Thank you again for your interest and support!
Love rules,
Scott Freeman

How and Why to Not Be Postmodern

metaphor for postmodernism

Recently I had coffee with one of my adult sons. I wanted to hear his insights about his spiritual development growing up. One unexpected comment came to light as he compared our family’s culture to that of a close friend’s. He observed that Mollie and I had modeled a faith that permeated all of life, and that our values reflected this. By contrast, for some people, faith is something added on, like an extra-curricular activity.

He said, “For you guys, a biblical worldview was like a pair of glasses through which you viewed everything. For my friend’s family it was more like a pair of binoculars that they would pick up now and then.”

This got me to thinking about postmodernism – the cultural state of society that distrusts the very idea of objective truth.

What is Postmodernity?
Philosopher and author Paul Copan describes postmodernity this way:

“French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard said that, simplifying to the extreme, postmodernism is suspension toward a metanarrative, which is a ‘world story’ that’s taken to be true for all people in all cultures and ends up oppressing people…”

So, postmodernity is a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are many horrific examples in history of people oppressing others over strongly held beliefs – both religious and secular – postmodernity seeks to solve the problem by getting rid of the notion of truth altogether. It’s like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Copan continues:

“…When people are so certain that they’ve got the truth and believe their system explains everything, then people who disagree with them are on the outside. They end up in Auschwitz or the Soviet gulags. So instead of metanarratives, postmodernism emphasizes mini-narratives. In other words, each person has his or her own viewpoint or story.”

Postmodernity attempts to address a very real problem in the world. It’s true that there are many metanarratives, ideologies, worldviews, and religions in the world that are coercive. But in making all truth relative, postmodernity does the world the ultimate disservice if there is, in fact, an objective, loving Authority who has communicated a true story that includes all of us. Followers of Jesus should confidently and joyfully ignore postmodernism and instead, prove the life giving nature of the story and message of Jesus in our own lives and families.

“All Truth Claims are Wrong!”
Copan points out that the relativism that stems from a postmodern worldview is self-refuting. It simply doesn’t work as a worldview.

“…the relativist believes that relativism is true not just for him but for every person. He believes that relativism applies to the nonrelativist (‘true for you’), not just to himself (‘true for me’). The relativist finds himself in a bind if we ask him, ‘Is relativism absolutely true for everyone?’…There’s no reason to take seriously the claim that every belief is as good as every other belief, since this belief itself would be no better than any other.”

But having noted the self-contradictory nature of postmodernity, what about the problem of metanarratives being necessarily oppressive? Specifically, does the big picture presented in the Judeo-Christian scriptures necessarily marginalize those “on the outside”?

Self Righteous and Holier-Than-Thou?
I don’t buy that. The Bible specifically teaches that self-righteousness is not even possible (Ps 14; Ro 3:10-18.) Salvation is a gift from God and something none of us can claim to have earned (Ro 3:23,24; 6:23; Gal 2:15,16; 3:2-5; Eph 2:8,9; 3:7-9.)

From a biblical worldview Jesus is the only human being who could rightfully claim to be without sin, claim to be righteous in-and-of-Himself, and claim to be unerring in His knowledge of truth. Yet He was the perfect picture of love and inclusivity. His life was characterized by loving, healing , and reaching out to the marginalized: those on the fringe of respectable Jewish culture, women, lepers, the sexually unchaste, traitors, servants, children, Romans and other non-Jews, and so on. He typically did this even though it was inconvenient for Him and often got Him into trouble with His critics.

Not only His actions but also His teachings explicitly taught that following Him must mean reaching out to and welcoming the marginalized in a broken world. Several parables come to mind:
The parable of the Samaritan
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
The parable of the prodigal son
The parable of the wedding feast and the uninvited guests
The parable of the widow’s offering
The story of the rich man and Lazarus

Rather than oppressing the marginalized, a biblical worldview acknowledges our common humanity. It roots human worth in the idea that all people bear the image of God, and yet it humbles human standing in the idea that all people “fall short of the glory of God’s ideal.” It is notable that two of the most combative personalities in the New Testament repeat the quote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.) Humility invalidates oppression and marginalization. A quote attributed to D T Niles rings true to me:

“A Christian witness is not like a rich man who has a lot of bread which he hands out to the poor beggars who have nothing. He is rather like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread.”

A Bedtime Story
Accordingly, this all affects what we say to our children. As a young father it was my job and privilege to tuck my children in at bedtime. I would sing and pray with them each night. I remember a period of time when one of my boys was very troubled. He would tearfully express that he was a “bad boy.” Those are the words he used. He was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was a bit taken aback by this because Mollie and I made a point of never telling our children that they were “bad,” even when correcting them.

He didn’t seem to be trying to confess a specific hidden offense that was troubling his conscience. Instead, he seemed to be expressing a recognition that there was something generally wrong within himself. I remember thinking carefully and prayerfully before answering him, because he expected an answer. Should I assure him that he wasn’t all that bad? Should I point out how he favorably compared to serial killers and drug dealers? This was my first impulse – to minimize his feelings and build up his self-esteem by pointing out all the things on the “good” side of his scale.

But a biblical worldview compelled me to say something different. Instead, I essentially agreed with him. And, holding him close in the dark, I sympathetically let him know that I was also “bad,” and so was every one else in the world; that what he was feeling was accurate. I explained that this is why God sent Jesus to us, because we all need a Savior. My son’s recognition of his brokenness was simply the first step toward the spiritual rebirth that Jesus offers to us all. Jesus promised to give us His Spirit to live inside of us, and after that we help each other to live a new life in that Spirit.

I’m certainly not recommending that we as parents teach our children that they are pure evil. The truth is more nuanced than that. I think the Bible’s description of the fallen human heart as “inclined” toward evil is helpful (Gen 8:21.) When I think of an incline, I notice it’s possible to roll a ball up an incline, but it takes deliberate effort. A ball naturally will roll down an incline. So it is with our hearts.

Speaking the Truth in Love
I assume there are those who would say it is appalling to say such things to a child. I imagine that a time may come when a secularist government will see fit to intervene in cases where parents teach such things. But truth is that which corresponds to the way things really are. What if a child is taught that he or she is naturally good and perfect? Where does that leave the child when he or she sees within himself or herself a tendency to lie, cheat, and hurt others? I contend that it leaves the child in a truly hopeless position.

The fact of human brokenness should never be used to shame or manipulate others. But neither does a biblical worldview indulge secularist, utopian, wishful thinking about the natural goodness of humanity. In fact, ironically this kind of thinking is actually dangerous when it comes to granting human beings governmental power over others.

I would like to hear about your experience as a child or a parent. How did you understand the state of the human heart? How was it communicated to you, and what effect did it have on you?

 

The True Story of Christmas

the true story of Christmas-shepherds at manger

The True Story of Christmas – Nativity with shepherds.

After 30 years of marriage and raising 5 kids together, Mollie and I have accumulated a beloved little collection of illustrated Christmas storybooks. When I worked at Hallmark Cards, the Creative Library there would bring in some of the best Christmas books on the market, and I ordered a few of my favorites for my our kids.

Some we bought for the great artwork, some we bought for the story. The best ones combined both. An important part of our Christmas season included slowing down, snuggling up, and reading Christmas stories to the kids in the evenings in December.

But I could never find a book like the one I’m making available to you and your family today.

Special care has been taken in The True Story of Christmas to remain as true to the biblical narrative as possible while still keeping the story accessible and engaging for children. The book seeks to reinforce the biblical narrative rather than the extra-biblical traditions that have grown up around the Christmas story.

For example, the scriptures do not say that a blazing star led the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. (The Magi arrived in Jerusalem, where Herod eventually sent them to Bethlehem to search for the child. Bethlehem was just a few miles down the main road.) The scriptures also indicate that the Magi visited Jesus as a toddler in a house in Bethlehem, not in a stable on the night He was born.

Biblical Christmas story-The Wise Men

The Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem, from The True Story of Christmas

While these details may or may not be significant, to me it seems best to be in accord with the scriptures regardless of how harmless such extra-biblical traditions may seem. Learning the true narrative at a young age will help to keep faith in the reliability of the Bible intact when such extra-biblical traditions, (and there are many,) are debunked later in a child’s life. The biblical narrative stands up to scrutiny – the extra-biblical traditions do not.

Perhaps more importantly, The True Story of Christmas gives the big picture context of the birth of Jesus according to the Bible. The book begins with God’s perfect creation, followed by the tragic consequences of the fall for humanity – the reason we are all in need of a Savior in the first place. After Noah’s flood, God’s restorative plan begins with His choosing of Abraham and the people of Israel. Kids are introduced to Israel’s prophets and their foretelling of a special child who would be born to Israel to set up a good and eternal kingdom. The Christmas story is the beginning of the fulfillment of these long-anticipated promises.

Following are some of the book’s illustrations and copy:

Christmas storybooks for kids-Malachi

“The very last prophet to speak of the promised messiah was named Malachi. After Malachi there were no more prophets at all in the land of Israel until it was time for the Messiah to be born. Israel had to wait 400 years after Malachi for God’s promise to come true. That is a very long time! But then, it finally happened!”…

Here’s an example of how the type appears on the page:

Birth of Jesus storybook-nativity scene

To Order:
The True Story of Christmas is now available! In order to ensure delivery before Christmas, my printer has informed me that HARDCOVER orders should be placed by December 3rd. To order now, CLICK THIS LINK
(Please email me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)

Christian Christmas storybooks-Holy Family

The flight to Egypt, from The True Story of Christmas

Thank you so much for your support!
May you and your family have a joyous Christmas season!

All images copyright Scott Freeman, 2015
Special thanks to my 3 favorite teaching pastors – John Meyer, Pat Sokoll, & Jonathan Williams – for consulting with me in the making of this book.