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

What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

public art Scott Freeman Mona Lisa

Just for fun, on Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you about a community art event that I and my church, Beggars’ Gate, put on at the city of Loveland’s Valentine’s Day festival.

I admit I am troubled over how divided and uncivil our nation has become. I got an idea for a project that would bring diverse festival-goers together in a fun, creative process that would end in an exciting collaborative result.

With my peeps at church and the Festival organizers on board, we contacted the owner of a boarded-up building downtown. He gave us permission to beautify his blank wall. Already there was lots of trust going around.

Here’s how it worked:
We laid out a giant 13 x 15 foot grid of 12 inch squares on the wall and painted a gold frame around it. We numbered the squares 1 thru 195. On my studio floor I transferred a (secret) design to 195 wooden foot square tiles. So each tile had part of giant drawing on it. I designated how each area of each tile must be painted in order to make this work: “L” for light, “M” for medium, and “D” for dark paint. Plus a few rare tiles with white, black, and red areas.

At the festival, our small army of volunteers instructed festival-goers in the process. Some of the tiles were impossible to mess up, provided the right color values were used, so even very small children and people with disabilities could (and did!) participate.

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

Unfortunately, this being our first time, there was a lot of guessing and estimating going on. We ran out of tiles and completed the image before the end of the second festival day. But Fire and Ice is a three day festival. So…one of my peeps ran out and purchased a stack of floor tiles. Another one cut some that needed cutting until we had another 100 blank squares. We contacted the building owner again for permission to attach a second mural to his wall. I worked into the wee hours to put together a (much simpler!) second design, and we were all ready for day 3 on Sunday.

A pastor friend, (who ended up hanging most of the Mona Lisa image on Saturday,) must’ve been struck with some deep thoughts while nailing up the creative expressions of nearly 200 people. What follows is what he wrote when he went home Saturday night. He read it to our little Beggars’ Gate congregation on Sunday morning. His name is John Meyer, and here are his thoughts:

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

This community art piece is a great picture of one of the good things we believe about life.

Everyone is an individual, with different talents, different experiences, different likes. It is those differences that make this picture fun, interesting, and a bit unexpected.

But there is a bigger picture that comes together in a way that makes a beautiful whole out of all the individuality. It happened because each individual brought his or her own expression within the plan of an artist who had an intention from the beginning. It would have been nearly impossible for hundreds of individuals to make the Mona Loveland by talking among themselves. But by accepting (even without understanding) the greater plan of the artist, the unique expression of each individual created something that included everyone, and has a greater meaning and beauty that only exists because everyone came together.

We think this is a good picture of God’s plan for life. Each of us is made wonderfully unique by Him. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two sets of fingerprints are alike, every person has unique and wonderful traits that are found in no other life.

But none of us are meant to be a complete picture alone. We are made for community. The Designing Artist has had a plan from the beginning to allow us to experience both our individuality and the greater good of a community living together.

It is from both living out who we are, and expressing that uniqueness within the “lines” and plan the Designing Artist has for each life, that allows us to experience the beautiful picture of human community to come together.

Our goal is to help individuals appreciate their own uniqueness, and to understand the plan of God that allows all of us to experience His good and bigger picture together!”

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

Mona Lisa Valentine

The finished mural: “The Sweetheart City’s” own Mona Lisa, painted by local citizens…

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the army of volunteers who enabled this event to happen for the community. They gave time, energy, and resources to make this event free for everyone else. ‘God bless em’ all!

dove peace community art project

This is the completed second mural.

 

A Creativity Game To Play With Your Kids

DG covAs an artist, I am sometimes asked by parents about how they can foster creativity in their kids. Do I teach children’s art classes? Can I recommend a great art curriculum for home-schoolers?

Ironically, since my wife and I are both professional artists we may not be the best people to ask. Art was simply part of the environment within which our kids grew up, and we naturally incorporated the arts into life because that’s what we do. I would say as a general rule, though, parental enthusiasm plays a big role in fostering creativity. My wife and I both happen to love children’s art, and we did get pretty enthusiastic when our kids would create things we thought were cool. We hung a lot of it, and saved some of it.

Perhaps indicative of our enthusiasm was that our most entrepreneurial son used to try to sell his drawings to people who would come over to our house. I suppose because that’s what he saw me doing. (For a living, I mean. Don’t worry – if you come for a visit I won’t try to hard sell my art to you.) He would make little pictures of cellos (we don’t know why) and write “25 cents” at the top of the page. When people would come over he would show them, and ask them if they would like to buy one of his cello pictures. We like to think this was a reflection of our supportive parenting, rather than our poverty-level artist income.

When I was a kid, I was obviously artistically gifted, but my parents had no clue as to what to do with me. What they did right was encourage me, not only with their words, but also by making sure there was always plenty of paper and art supplies on hand. Even though my dad was a manly, blue-collar guy, he never gave me the impression that he thought I was an overly-sensitive, skinny, weird little artistic kid. (Even though I was.)

Looking back, I think what my parents could’ve done better was to provide some art materials other than the usual color pencils, which tend to be not very visually impactful and may be a bit tedious to use, depending upon a child’s personality. We usually supplied our kids with Crayola markers because of their bold and bright colors, especially when the kids were small. We would also let them paint, but this requires more time, supervision, and commitment, especially for parents who may not be as comfortable with paint.

Also, it might have been nice if my parents had exposed me to some fine art, but I think this was simply outside of their bandwidth. (Mostly I pored over my big brother’s Marvel comic books.) My third grade teacher, whom I did not particularly like, once got permission from my parents to come to my house and take me to the St. Louis Art Museum, which kind of freaked me out in general. Miss Cunningham. I suspect she must have been an art-lover. I now think this was a pretty amazing and outside-of-the-box thing for her to do.

A Simple Game to Play With Your Kids
Today I want to share with you a simple art game that I often played with my kids. We think we invented it, and we called it “The Drawing Game.” (Admittedly, not a terribly creative name for a game about creativity.)

It’s not much of a game, really. The main point is to think creatively and to make each other laugh. It is also a bit of a challenge to keep the game going, because it’s possible to shut the game down by limiting possibilities too soon. The game also teaches patience and forbearance in relationships because the other party will be taking something you’ve drawn and changing it, usually not in a way that you would’ve chosen. Kind of like in life.

I was reminded of the game in my previous post. You may recall that I quoted a researcher who said that over the past decade American children have become:
“…less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” The largest drop has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way…”

Well, The Drawing Game is all about thinking creatively, synthesizing, and expanding on an idea, just for the fun of it.

You will need:
A piece of paper
A pencil or marker
your kid or kids
yourself
your creative minds

How to play:

  • Someone starts off by drawing one simple shape, geometric or organic, on the page.
  • That player passes the page to the next person, who adds a new, simple element to the page.
  • The page is passed to the next person, who adds a new element. The page may be turned sidewise or upside-down to help in imagining new possibilities, and to keep the game going.
  • Continue on in this way as long as everyone is having fun, or until the page becomes too cluttered. Your kids can color the picture in when the game is over.

Rules of play:

  • No making fun of anyone’s lame drawing. The point is to enjoy each other, not make awesome art.
  • No obliterating anyone’s drawing. You can only change the drawing by adding to it, or changing the context. (For example the scene may suddenly become an underwater scene if someone adds a waterline.) If you feel you would like to cover part of someone’s contribution, ask their permission. Like in real life.
  • Be complimentary when someone draws a creative idea. Say things like, “That’s a great idea.”
  • If you have boys, you may want to place a limit on the number of times they can add blood or projectile vomiting to the drawing.

Example:
I asked my 17-year-old daughter if she would play with me, so that you could see an example of how the game is played. It was still fun.

I drew the circle first. I thought it might become a sun. Or Renee might have added a long string to it to turn it into a balloon. Or it might have become an eye on a giant face. Or the wheel of a car. Part of the fun is seeing how other people’s minds work, and watching the “story” develop.

Drawing Game-1
Below I show the subsequent stages without comment…

DG 2-3DG 4-5DG 6-8DG 9-11DG 12-14Let me know if you tried The Drawing Game, and if you and your kids enjoyed it!

 (Click the Book Store tab to order my new kids’ storybook, The Cocky Rooster.)

Dad Notes: The Safety Police

Cowboys & Indians

The author as a politically incorrect child, apparently unable to choose a side.

I read an interesting article at the gym last weekend that resonated with me. Both the artist and the dad part of me liked it, mostly. My wife can tell you that for years I have railed against “the Safety Police.”

I don’t know exactly who the Safety Police are, but apparently they hold positions of influence, because pretty much every playground in America is now coated in rubber, and padded underneath.

The article was about fostering creativity, courage, self-confidence, and problem-solving skills in kids. Hanna Rosin, the author, contends that the current trend of parents scheduling every minute of their child’s lives with closely supervised activities is robbing them of the chance to explore and take risks in life. (See full article here.)

Her article is centered around a visit with her son to something called an “adventure playground” in Wales. Such playgrounds are designed to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with a minimum of adult supervision from the trained adult staff. The idea is to allow kids to experience a sense of danger and risk, and to learn how to deal with these situations themselves. These playgrounds include an area with moveable elements such as tires and wooden shipping palettes. She describes another area where some kids were starting a fire in a metal drum. Part of the playground runs steeply down into a shallow creek, and includes a rope swing, which may or may not get you across.

Stay with me here. I’m not on a campaign to litter our playgrounds with glass shards. I just think it’s a worthwhile discussion.

Rope Swing

Dangerous…

I think of my own childhood, which included long, unsupervised hours away from my house and my parents, engaged in creative play. Admittedly, some of my activities with young friends were less than brilliant, but that’s kind of the point. We figured it out and lived to tell about it.

Sand Dune Natl Monument

…also dangerous.

I think of my own kids. How often – regularly, in fact – Mollie and I would be outside somewhere and we would hear the words “Hi Mom!” But these words would sound much farther away than they should’ve, especially coming from overhead. We would look skyward to find our second-born son high in a tree, as high as he could possibly go. (Higher than we were comfortable with.) Of course, as soon as his little brother grew old enough, he was right behind his big brother.

There’s no question that there was very real risk there. But it never seemed quite right to me to tell them, “YOU KIDS GET DOWN FROM THAT TREE RIGHT NOW!” even though Mollie and I wondered out loud to each other if all of our children would make it to adulthood. I guess I’m still not sure whether or not we should’ve forbidden extreme tree climbing. I do remember instructing them to make sure that they always had a firm grip on a strong branch so that they wouldn’t fall.

At one point in our downstairs bathroom, the bathtub contained one turtle, two large toads, and several garter snakes, all found in and around our inner-city yard. (The kids thought it was great that these animals couldn’t escape the tub. Eventually we released them when the bathroom started stinking.) None of these animals were dangerous, but I suppose it still seemed exciting to the kids since a certain percentage of the population is either freaked-out or grossed-out by such creatures. We did instruct the kids to always wash their hands after handling the reptiles because there is a real risk of contracting disease from the salmonella bacteria carried by reptiles.

Rosin quotes early childhood education professor, Ellen Sandseter. She has concluded that children have a sensory need to experience (perceived) danger and excitement. Sandseter has identified 6 categories of risky play, including exploring heights, and exploring on one’s own.

I have to think this must be true of a lot of kids, based on what I’ve seen in myself, in my own kids, in conversation with others, and in watching other families. And I don’t see any reason to ascribe this “need” to our sin nature.

Rosin also cites the research of Kyung-Hee Kim, an educational psychologist who has found that over the past decade American children have become:
“less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” The largest drop has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way. Practicing psychologists have also written about the unique identity crisis that this generation faces—a fear of growing up and, in the words of Brooke Donatone, a New York City–based therapist, an inability “to think for themselves.”

Given the context of the article, it seems that Rosin thinks over-protective parenting is the culprit.

What do you think? Are our children over-protected? How do/did you as a parent strike a balance between safety and controlled risk with you kids? How do you avoid being a “helicopter parent”?

At the recent release of my new kids’ book, THE COCKY ROOSTER, I described its underlying theme as “the need for young children to submit to their parent’s loving authority in a broken and sometimes dangerous world.” In my opinion, it is essential for loving parental authority to be in play first before we can responsibly allow our young kids the freedom to explore, and to have their own “lion and bear experiences.” Such experiences will prepare them to go out and face giants someday. But risk is always part of the picture. Even as adults, living a life in submission to God-given authority, and to God Himself, does not equate to a life free of risk. Being under right authority helps us to discern the difference between foolish and worthwhile risks (Prov 10:23.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences…

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Long's Peak Summit

My daughter, Sierra, on the summit of Long’s Peak, elevation 14,259 ft.

Next time I’ll share with you a simple game my kids and I used to play, designed to foster “creativity, imagination, synthesizing, and elaboration.”

Grace and peace – Scott