20: how Santa draws us to Christ

One of the joys of this blog is being able to share stuff with you which is far, far better than what I’m writing, so it’s a privilege today to point you all in the direction of The Life-Changing Magic of an Untidy Christmas, which was published yesterday over on Desiring God. It has little to do with what I’m going to write about, but was too damned good not to pass on. Have a read, see what you think.

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A friend asked me yesterday whether I had any advice on speaking to small children about Santa, and since our day was also punctuated in other ways by Santa (Monkey and Meerkat had a visit from the Big Man at their preschool Christmas party – and were constantly talking about hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve), he seems a good topic for today’s reflection.

There is so much which is fun about Santa. He’s a novelty – someone who turns up just once a year, but is friendly and kind, and delivers exactly the presents you’ve asked for, all wrapped up in a stocking. How fun is that? And he doesn’t just do this for you, but – somehow, miraculously – for all the children around the world.

The real ‘Santa’, St Nicholas, was also a kind, friendly, generous man – he loved God, and from that relationship came a heart for the poor and vulnerable around him. The legend of him dropping three bags of gold into the slippers of three young women in his village whose father was too poor to afford their dowries – even if it may have been embellished down the years – shows a heart which was sacrifically generous.

During Advent, we have always taught our children that Santa was a real person, St Nicholas, and we tell them this story about his generosity. We use this book, but one which has been recommended to me by a lot of Christian parents is Just Nicholas (we don’t yet have it ourselves). Doing this, our kids have always known that Santa – as we celebrate him today – is not alive today, but that he was based on a real person. (We’ve also told them not to tell their classmates!)

This has not killed the magic for our family – on the contrary, I believe it has added a rich significance which merely believing in ‘Santa’ does not. Because Santa also has his failings. He only rewards you if you’re good. He watches what you do through the year, and keeps a list of your wrongdoings. He’s not interested in a relationship with you.

In short – Santa is only human. To base our Christmas around him would end in huge disappointment.

But celebrating ‘Santa’ as St Nicholas each Christmas is a way of pointing to Jesus in our celebrations. St Nicholas gave freely and sacrificially because he’d received freely and sacrificially from Jesus’ death and resurrection. The baby Jesus who we celebrate at Christmas grew up to be our Rescuer – the One who would put us right with God forever. He would not keep a record of our wrongdoings, but forgive us freely – and His gift would be available to all, regardless of how ‘good’ we were. As we remember St Nicholas, the gracious man who gave of his money, time and energy, we are more able to look up to the God who inspired him.

I genuinely feel that celebrating Santa can be a hugely significant part of our festivities. But elevating him to a position above Jesus is so easy to do – and, although we may not realise it, over-indulging in Santa at Christmas really muddies the waters for our young children. They don’t realise who or what they’re celebrating – nor why. Or else, the sacred and the secular celebrations (Jesus and Santa being celebrated equally, but separately) represent two parallel, but unrelated, Christmas traditions.

In Zechariah’s day, God’s people felt disappointed by their return to Israel. It wasn’t all they had expected, so they started to grumble, and turned to idols. But, through Zechariah, God made it very clear that these idols had no power whatsoever – His people needed to return to Him, who was able to do all things:

Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
    it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.
He gives showers of rain to all people,
    and plants of the field to everyone.
The idols speak deceitfully,
    diviners see visions that lie;
they tell dreams that are false,
    they give comfort in vain.
Therefore the people wander like sheep
    oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (Zechariah 10:1-2)

In today’s terms, an ‘idol’ is anything which diverts our attention from God. Perhaps this sounds a little dramatic for something as innocent as Santa. Or perhaps it’s the innocuous parts of our culture which have the most potential to draw us away from Jesus.

* If you have children, think back over the last few weeks. How many of your activities/celebrations have been about Santa? How many about Jesus? Or do you combine the two?

* As an adult, what are the secular Christmas traditions (like Santa) which threaten to draw your attention from Jesus?

Lord God, you’ve commanded me not to make idols – and yet I do it unthinkingly in so many ways, not least at Christmas when so many festivities claim my attention and focus. Please re-orientate my gaze onto You, trusting in You for the satisfaction I can’t find elsewhere. Amen.

what i’m into – november 2017

November can be a pretty miserable month – it’s cold, wet and dark, and it feels like we’re hanging around waiting for December to begin. To distract myself from the temptation to put the tree up on November 1st (did I mention I LOVE Christmas??), I kept myself busy with…

Books

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Having recently read ‘Me Before You’, it was only natural to want to know what had happened to Louisa, the main character, so I enjoyed ‘After You’ (JoJo Moyes) as an easy-to-read but satisfying ‘conclusion’ to the first book. I was just thinking that the story would work well as a trilogy – and then discovered that there will, in fact, be a third book coming out in the spring! Yay!

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I’ve not yet finished, but am thoroughly enjoying, ‘Why Love Matters’ (Sue Gerhardt), something I’ve been wanting to read in full since coming across it on our adoption reading list two years ago. It’s about the vital role that early love and nurture play in the development of a child’s brain, helping it to regulate emotions, retain a normal level of cortisol (stress hormone), and all sorts of other interesting things. Gerhardt shows how a baby who does not have its emotional needs met, and/or experiences separation from its primary caregiver, is much more susceptible to poor mental health and even physical health in adulthood, amongst other undesirable states.

Now I am NOT a scientist, but Gerhardt has condensed a 50-page bibliography of current psychological research about the brain into a novel-sized book that even I can understand. Brilliant and thoroughly recommended for anyone, like me, who has a passing interest in psychology but not enough to do a whole degree in it!

Oh, and I was massively excited to be part of a new book club launch in my area! We’re kicking off in January, and you’ll be the first to know what we’re delving into!

Food

For the first time, I got to experience my friend’s bistro in the evening. The daytime menu at Bistro Guy is what you’d expect from a decent, modern-British restaurant – local organic platters, decent home-cooked burgers, soups and salads – and we’ve been several times. But the evening is totally different, and I highly recommend it for any Yorkie who hasn’t yet been.

Guy provides a tantalising menu of ‘small plates’, all with a Japanese-Western fusion, and you simply order as much as you feel you can eat. Which, in my case, would probably be all of them – except for my bank balance, and the fact that we were eating before a show so were somewhat time-limited. I’d seen the menu before, but the reality was even better.

I started with Karaage chicken, Yuzu dressed fine beans and a wasabi emulsion – delicious flavours and beautifully tender – but it was so yummy that I’d necked the lot before I thought of taking any photos.

My Dad enjoyed a wild mushroom and garden pea soup: (Excuse the rubbish phone pics, they really don’t do the food justice.)

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I tried a wild mushroom and leek filo roll, squash puree and parmesan crisp (only halfway through before I remembered to take a pic):

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And then – the piece de resistance – whiskey-smoked duck, a feast for the eyes and tastebuds:

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I absolutely loved the smoke-filled bell-jar – and the aroma when it was lifted off was absolute heaven. The duck was beautifully cooked and the flavours matched perfectly.

As if I hadn’t had enough amazing flavours, I finished off with the chocolate brownie, coconut pannacotta, red bean and ice cream:

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An incredible meal.

Elsewhere, in what was probably my most stressful week of the year, our Suzuki teacher (and my boss) made me this amazing cake. Wasn’t that kind?

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And a couple of fun pre-Christmas foodie traditions at home. I made a batch of Christmas chutneys for gifts:

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And the kids (well, the younger three – the oldest has sadly opted out this year) helped to make our Christmas pud. And yes, we made it on Stir-Up Sunday!

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Music

It was a teeny bit stressful, rashly offering to step in to accompany a friend’s school choir in the middle of town at short notice this month – but, once I’d put in the practice, I absolutely LOVED being able to justifiably play Christmas music mid-November.

Did I mention I LOVE Christmas music??

Stage and screen

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My Dad is a big G&S fan, so I invited him and Mum up here to see Patience. It was pretty good (for a not-so-fan), and I even managed to stay awake through it all – something not achieved by the other not-so-fan in the party. Spotting one of Mister’s teaching assistants in the chorus was a particular highlight.

I went to see Nina Conti with a friend and she was brilliant brilliant brilliant. We laughed so hard that we hurt – and it was the kind of laughter that you couldn’t stop if you tried. Her improvisation is so quick, her puppetry is amazing, and I’ve simply never seen anything like it. I can’t understand why she’s not better known, so have vowed to make it my mission to spread the word, starting with this video, which you simply MUST watch:

On the blog

Hooray for managing another blog post this month besides these monotonous run-downs. Turns out that Five Ways my Toddlers are Different from Yours hit a chord with people, and within days it had become one of the most-read posts on this blog EVER (that’s over-five-years Ever). I also introduced my #randomadvent blog posts, and would be thrilled if you wanted to pootle along with me during Advent. The easiest way is to sign up to receive them directly into your inbox – you should find the appropriate box in the right-hand column of this blog.

In other news…

* I’ve made an effort with Twitter. I’m @DesertMumBlog if you’re interested to follow me. Sometimes I say something good and no one notices. Other times, I say something predictable and it gets lots of likes and retweets. Twitter is a strange place.

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* I attended Adoption UK’s Annual Conference – it was my first one, and it was amazing! This year’s theme was ‘Attachment and Trauma in the Classroom’ and so much of it was helpful to work through, both as a parent, and as a governor, seeking to make a positive change within our school community. Some of the speakers had really interesting experiences, like the headteacher who runs his school very differently since he’s become an adoptive parent, or the mum who started her own school because her son wasn’t catered for in the mainstream.

There was also a decent lunch, surely the mark of a good conference:

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* We had a Baker Day (anyone else still call them that?) so I took the kiddoes to William’s Den – highly worth a visit if you’re local. Brilliant for toddlers through to older primary kids – like soft play, only hard.

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* My wallet was stolen. I don’t actually mind, because the story’s a good one, and it’s always nice to build up one’s repertoire of dinner-party-worthy anecdotes (maybe I’ll share it on here one day). People were all like, “Oh what a pain, you have to cancel all your cards” – but I’m ashamed to say I had only one bank card and approximately five gazillion store loyalty cards for every single shop within a 50-mile circumference of my home. I’m a SUCKER for anyone offering me a paltry discount in return for a large chunk of my patronage. IMG_20171129_125507[1]

* We got back into doing some interactive Bible stories over breakfast. It’s been a surprisingly easy habit to fall into, and the younger three kids love them. I use Play through the Bible, sadly no longer available, so if you’re interested, you’ll have to borrow a copy 😉 I feel we’ve cracked the habit in time for starting some Christmas stories this weekend.

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* The younger boys (and I!) were very excited by this rainbow!

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* We were then very excited by the snow! NOW, Desert readers, help me out with something. After each blog post, I am indebted to all the wonderful recommendations you come up with – most recently, for a new ironing board cover (still in progress…). So, when the temperature suddenly dropped by 20 degrees last week, my face very quickly started to resemble blotchy red sandpaper. Any great recommendations of a decent facial moisturiser which protects against the cold? We live in the North, you know.

* Last but very much not least…it’s our school Christmas Fair tomorrow, so I’ve been doing lots of bits for that. It’ll probably get a mention in #randomadvent, but for now let me just tell you what a total JOY it is to compare how far our school has come since last year’s Christmas fair. We now have a proper PTA, a committee, and a good bunch of enthusiastic and reliable parents to help out. I’m expecting great things!

And, oh gosh, it’s past midnight, which means that the Fair is today. Best get some sleep.