St. Nicholas by Elisabeth Jvanovsky

Christmas is a season full of ethical decisions for a Christian. Do we tell our children the story of Santa Clause? Do we put a tree in our home? Do we participate in the materialistic frenzy of the season by buying gifts for others? A gentleman that I know from San Francisco asked me about my thoughts on these matters, so I thought I’d give  a brief response to each:

Do we tell our children the story of Santa Clause?

Personally, I have no intention of telling my children the  story of Santa Clause as it is commonly told. Ol’ Saint Nick is based on a real, historical person though. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra. He was a faithful Christian pastor who was known for his generosity toward the poor. He suffered for the name of Christ under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. To put the cherry on top he was in attendance at the Council of Nicaea where the Arian heresy was defeated.

Now, if you prefer to tell a story about a magic, overweight man who flies a sleigh around the world at night giving gifts to children based on merit, go ahead! I cannot think of a better figure that Nicholas of Myra to use as a display of the generosity that comes when the gospel changes lives! To learn more, go here.

Do you put a Christmas tree in your home?

Yes! I know some misguided people have “seen” a prohibition against Christmas trees in Jeremiah 10.1-10, but let me remind readers of that text that (1) Jeremiah knew nothing of “Christmas tree” and (2) the passage addresses the creation of idols, not hanging cute ornaments on a tree. We must be careful when we quote Scripture like this.

It appears that the Christmas tree has uncertain origins. I have read that people used to cut down the tree and put it in their home as a reminder that life will return in spite of that winter season. If that is the case then I see no harm in that. Another suggestion is that Protestant Germans used it as the “Tree of Life” in the “Garden of Eden” (again, symbolizing life). At the end of the day though it is important to realize that the historical significance is one thing, but the significance you and your family provide the tree is something different.

Some put up a tree because it is tradition and it reminds them of good times with family and friends. Some see it as a reminder of “life” during a winter season. If you see it as an idol and you find yourself bowing before it, well, then that may be a problem, but my assumption is that most people don’t do this!

Do you buy gifts for others?

In recent years my wife and I have been influenced by the “Advent Conspiracy” people which seek to minimize spending-for-the-sake-of-spending and a return to giving gifts of significance.We try not to buy gifts for others out of obligation. The last two years my wife has made home made baked goods and we have asked our families to give funds to particular worthy causes rather than buying us more “stuff”. If they still want to send us something like a card or a small gift, that is welcomed, but we don’t want them to run around worried about what to get us or worried that they will have to charge more to their Visa so that everyone gets something.

It is this type of materialism that ruins the holidays. But is giving itself wrong? Are gifts wrong?

While I do think it is wrong to go into debt in order to purchase things for others out of some sort of holiday obligation this does not mean it is wrong to give gifts. Actually, I think giving gifts is great. What is wrong with being giving? As long as it is done thoughtfully, and within one’s financial means, it is a good thing.

So give, give, give! But don’t go into debt doing it, don’t buy things with no personality and out of obligation, and don’t forget about what Christmas is really about which is Christ’s giving of himself and the Father’s giving of his Son…these things outweigh remote control cars and video games!