Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Can Santa Be a Part of a Christ-Centered Christmas? Our Family's Unique Tradition {With Free Candy Cane Story Printable}

What does your family do with Santa Claus? I have such fond memories of my childhood days as I would dream about that jolly man with a white beard and his little elves all busy making my Christmas gifts at that magical place called the North Pole. I could imagine Mrs. Claus sitting at her quaint wooden table drinking her hot chocolate and looking over the "naught or nice" list, smiling at Santa as he walks in with a jolly laugh, holding his belly as it jiggles. I remember trying to figure out how Santa could come down the chimney and leave us gifts, eat our cookies and never make a sound. It was such fun! And that's exactly what my parents were hoping for...to give us a joy-filled, fun Christmas.

I think that's the desire of every parent....to make their children smile. Of course my parents also desired to make Christ the center of our Christmas. They certainly worked hard at that and taught us all about Christ's coming to earth as a baby to be the savior of the world. They wanted this to be the most important part of our Christmas celebrations. I mean, my dad was a pastor and my parents loved Jesus with all their hearts! I really think they had no idea that as a young girl I would lie awake in bed on Christmas Eve conflicted and feeling a sense of guilt because, though I wanted Christ to be the most important thing about Christmas, really I was most excited that Santa was coming that very night...and bringing me presents! It's actually been something I have wrestled with through the years as I struggle to sort through the confusion of Christmas.

Christmas is like a two-sided coin, both sides opposite each other, having nothing to do with each other really.  One side is so shiny and bright, loud and dazzling with excitement...and the other is dim and subtle, so much so that you could almost miss it.  Jesus, a little baby in a manger.  Nothing glamorous about that. No, he came so humble and quiet...."the mystery so large becomes the Baby so small, and infinite God becomes infant" (Ann Voskamp). You have to really slow down, be still and quiet to see Him.

Isn't it hard enough to keep our eyes fixed on Christ with all the distractions of this world and the selfish desires of our hearts that constantly pull us away? So, why make it harder by adding in such competition for our affections and attention, at a time when our hearts ought to be drawn to our Savior? Isn't it kind of like putting a child at the starting line of a race, telling them to keep their eyes on the prize at the end..."It's the most important thing, nothing else compares!" and then placing enticing toys and candy all along the sidelines? Yes, it may be fun, but it pulls us away from the Best thing.

I understand the desire to make Christmas a fun time for our kids. I want the same thing! But if it's really true that there is no greater joy than knowing Christ himself, then can't we make Christmas all about Christ and be confident that it will be joy-filled and exciting? Does it have to be Jesus plus this or that? Or is Jesus enough?

So, that's what we've tried to do...narrow our gaze on Christ at Christmas, which for us means removing the glitzy "other side" of Christmas....namely the Santa side.  Now, this doesn't mean that we pretend like Santa doesn't exist. By no means! We tell our kids about Santa (kind of hard to avoid him), but not just about the legend of the reindeer, elves and bowl full of jelly. We tell them the whole story...the true story. Actually, I think it's a pretty awesome story. Saint Nicholas really lived, and he loved God...and he loved others. He was actually a good picture of Christ to us. He was a picture of self-less love.

There are many legends that have been passed down about St. Nicholas, and though the accuracy of the legends aren't exactly clear, it seems safe to say he was the bishop of Myra in the 300s, known for his generosity and kindness. It is said that he received a large inheritance from his parents when they died and gave it all away to the poor. He was known for giving his gifts in secret, often throwing bags of money into people's homes at night, sometimes landing in their shoes or stockings. The story we read to the kids each year (Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend) tells the story of St. Nicholas secretly giving money to three daughters whose father was so poor he didn't have money for their dowries. Because of his gift, the girls were able to get married and have a hopeful future. This is the kind of compassionate generosity he became known for all over the world.

Of course every parent has to decide how they want to deal with the issue of Santa Claus, giving it much prayer and consideration. People land in different places and that's ok.  I'm certainly not in any place to make judgments. But if you've come to a place where you want something different but don't know how to do it, can I share with you what we do?

On December 6th, which is St. Nicholas Day (did you know there is a day set aside in honor of him?), we do something special. We read the story book about who he was and then go out on our own little secret gift-giving mission! But we add a little twist to it...

Instead of giving bags of money, we give candy cane bundles! Why candy canes, you ask? Here's why...the candy cane can be used to tell the gospel!  So we bundle up our candy canes and attach a little card that tells the gospel through the different elements of the candy cane. Then we head out to secretly drop them off on the doorsteps of random people's houses...in the dark of night.  

Now this is the really fun part...

Our kids love to do things to the hilt. So, they dress up in full camo and become like a stealth special forces unit. No, I'm serious! They army crawl across the lawn, make the drop, dash behind a bush, roll down the hill and back into the van. It's the most hilarious thing you've ever seen! It's like a boy's dream! And they get upset when the candy canes are all gone and it's time to head home. Of course, mom and dad are a wreck hoping we won't get caught and have the cops called on us! (It's not like we're a little conspicuous or anything, in our huge blue van with the headlights off.) But it's just so much fun. Then as we drive home we pray for all the people that will find our gift and read the candy cane story, the simple gospel story... that God would use it to speak his love into their hearts.

Oh yeah, one last bit of fun awaits the kids when we get home. Laying on the piano (not sure why we use the piano, probably because we don't have a fireplace) are each of their socks filled with some coins (like maybe $1! Cheap parents!). Hmm...I wonder who left those there? ;-) Ok, they know it's us, but it's a fun way to tie it all together.

Not sure if we look camouflage or just redneck!
The kids have come to really look forward to St. Nicholas Day...but not for the presents that he will bring. You see, we've learned something from the man in red that we want to imitate. We want to give to those who are in need. And what greater need do people have than for Jesus himself? In a small way, we are giving them Jesus. And in all of this we are striving to keep Jesus the center, the most important part of Christmas. Because truly, nothing else compares.

Click here to download a free Candy Cane Story Printable
(I can't take credit for this. I found it online years and years ago, but can't find it anymore.)

Just print them on cardstock, cut them out and attach to a bundle of
candy canes! 

What does your family do about Santa Claus? Do you have any creative traditions that you've started to help you focus on Christ as a family? Please share them with us!  

And I'd love to hear if you decide to adopt our St. Nicholas Day family tradition.  So leave a comment and tell us about it!

Later I'll share some other family traditions we do to draw our hearts to Christ at Christmas.

Consider subscribing to get my blogs sent to your email?


*Just for fun...

Here are some pictures of our Candy Cane Missions from the past (2008 is as far back as I could find, but I'm sure it started before that). **Disclaimer**- My children dressed themselves for most of these missions ;-)


I'm very pregnant with Jed here (born 12/26)



I guess I forgot to take a good sock picture this year!

I  guess I forgot to take an "outside the van" picture this year  :-/

And 2013 will be happening in just a few days!...
and with another addition to the family, baby Ezra :-)


  1. Love this, Jenny!! Y'all are too fun, and I loved getting to see all the pics from years past. We pull out our Advent wreath and read various scriptures each week during meal times to focus on Christ's coming. We also have read from Janette Oke's Reflections on the Christmas Story. I would love to read Ann Voskamp's book that you mentioned on FB. Maybe for next year? Thanks for sharing this wonderful tradition with us!

    1. Thanks Dee Dee! I'll have to check into the Janette Oke book!

  2. Such a great idea!!! Found your blog after your sis-in-law Jessie (one of my best friends!) ;0) linked to it on FB. I actually just checked out a few books about St Nicholas from the library today, and have been trying to figure out how to incorporate his story into our discussions around here. My kids will be thrilled with the idea of giving away candy canes. Thanks so much!

    1. Christy, So glad you found this helpful! And on the day you got St. Nicholas books from the library! That's so cool. If you end up giving away candy canes, I'd love to hear how it goes!

  3. Anonymous8:59 PM

    Thank you for sharing a wonderful part of your Christmas-----I am a pastor and what greater gift to give to our children than the gift of Christ and his love for the needy!!!!GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY!!!! Bro Bill

    1. Thank you so much for the words of encouragement Brother Bill! So glad you found my blog!

  4. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Beckie and I struggled with the Santa question. Some of the things we have tried to do are:
    Decorated with Jesus Christmas themes, Wise men. Angels. Nativity scenes around the house and stuffed animals under the tree. We have a ceramic Santa kneeling before the manger.
    We have tried to continue the family tradition of reading the Christmas story on Christmas eve.
    The kids did get presents on Christmas morning but they were never labeled "from Santa" the kids made the assumption themselves.
    As time went on we softened our position and a lot more Santa arrived.
    We discovered that with a lot of kids, a lot of toys is a problem. Keep to very few things. I love the things you are doing and I appreciate your heart. Keep it up..

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Uncle Duane! It's great to hear what you guys have done. And I agree about the toys...with a lot of kids you have to keep the "stuff" to a minimum or it will get out of control. Miss you!