Ah, Generation X. The children of the baby boomers. We lived through Reagan and Bush, survived Black Monday, and saw the nascence of the home computer and video game industries. War was something we read about
in history books, or that our grandparents (the so-called “Silent Generation” who survived the Depression) would talk about. We witnessed the tragedy of the Challenger, the inexplicable rise of hair rock bands, and the birth of MTV (back when the M stood for Music, instead of Mindless).
Our childhoods were unique because we grew up in a time of relative peace that enabled the innovations we witnessed throughout our younger years. Heck, I still remember our first VCR, and how amazing the concept of “renting” movies when I first heard about it.
On the downside, our parents also had a pretty high divorce rate. A lot of GenXers come from broken homes, absent one parent or another due to divorce (or lack of marriage in the first place). This seems to have led to a shift in cultural paradigms, because our generation began a trend that GenY continued (and often gets credited for): not getting married young. There was a sharp rise in premarital sex when GenX hit our teen years, ostensibly because we saw what trouble marriage was when people jumped into it too quickly and didn’t want to repeat that. This, of course, led to an upswing in teen pregnancies and STD’s.
Obviously, the point of this blog is to talk about Christmas, not delve into a sociological discussion about Generation X. I’m trying to lay the foundation to explore why Christmas seems to have become so watered down and overhyped. As GenXers continued to age and GenYers gained more prominence and representation, the more liberal ideas of the latter began to take center stage. Probably due in part to the uncertainty and transitional state of their GenX forebears, GenY has forsaken many traditional and conservative values, but for the most part have not replaced those values with anything of substance.
Since the typical premium marketing demographic is in the (very vague and unofficial) range of 18-30, most marketing and business have adapted to GenY’s more liberal leanings. Suddenly we see fewer nativity scenes, a rise in prominence for other religious holidays in December, and the secularization of what is, by virtue of its very name, a religious holiday: “Cristes maesse” derived from the Greek “Christos” and the Latin “missa” – in other words, Christ’s Mass (interesting side-note: the abbreviation for “Christos” is – guess what? – the letter X; so simply writing X-mas is not, technically, taking the Christ out of Christmas).
I believe this is primarily why the holiday seems to hold less meaning for us today. It’s all pomp and no circumstance, lots of glitter and red and green but bereft of its original substance and meaning. (And when I say “original” in this context, I mean Christmas itself; not its predecessor, the pagan festival Saturnalia, or the German counterpart, Yule).
So the struggle we face, especially since many of us are now raising our own kids, is what to do about Christmas. It’s just not the same anymore. Sure, in part it’s that we grew up. Significant moments of childhood are often inconsequential as in adulthood. But part of it is that Christmas has changed. We look around now and see ridiculous sales and an increased focus on spending money and buying gifts, and we think… wow, that’s not what I remember at all. Your memory isn’t faulty, folks. That’s not how it was.
What was once a grand time of year is now frustrating. It brings out the absolute worst in people. Don’t believe me? What about the Wal-Mart associate that was trampled to death under the heels of rampant Black Friday shoppers in 2009? How many of you have been fortunate to actually have someone back off and give you a parking space, instead of racing you to it? Shoppers prowl malls and stores on the lookout for the best deals, and they’ll knock you over and step on you to get there without a second thought. The very concept of being a friendly, courteous, good neighbor is completely lost on them.
And the impatience and stupidity of people! Everyone is in a hurry to get absolutely nowhere. I’ve been tailgated on slick roads with my kids in the car by people who clearly have no concept of what ice does to traction.
And let’s not forget our own negative experiences with Christmas itself. Do any one of you have a parent who had a clue how to tie the Santa story all together? Or could provide a meaningful answer as to who the jolly one was in relation to this Jesus kid who was supposedly born on this day? Probably not. And as GenXers, we questioned our parents about everything. Thanks to the relative peace and prosperity of our youth, we developed a culture of entitlement and expectation that the older GenY members have broken down into a science by now. We knew better, right? We could do better.
I’m going to examine three big elements of the holiday season over the next three days (well, nights), and offer some thoughts about how we can reclaim this holiday from its current, meaningless iteration. Let’s reconcile then and now, and make the future, for our kids, a brighter one than we have ever known. I’ll be starting with the path of least resistance, the simplest piece of this puzzle, the jolly red one himself, Santa Claus. Or at least, that intangible ideal that is Santa, as one of the two big symbols of Christmas.
Reconciling the Symbols: Providing Context
Our generation is one of the first to really experience a massive influx of Santa culture, thanks to the advent of cable television in our youths, and the ever-evolving mass marketing methods. We saw him everywhere – on billboards, on television (in commercials and in his own Christmas specials). Who could forget the loose continuity of the Rankin Bass Christmas specials, like Rudolph and The Year Without a Santa Claus? The big guy was everywhere, even more than in previous generations.
Sadly, this media explosion led to a ton of inconsistencies in his “origin story” if you will. For one thing, most of us got name brand toys and electronics for Christmas, so the whole “elves making toys in a workshop in the north pole” thing kind of goes out the window. Unless, of course, Sony had subcontracted some elves to produce a Santa-exclusive series of Walkman radios.
For another thing, our awareness of the world at large had evolved. It was a big place! How is it possible that Santa delivered toys to the entire planet? And why did he always use the GMT -500 time zone that the eastern US utilizes? When it’s midnight here, it’s already daylight in Japan.
And where did he come from? Rankin Bass had their own theories, of course. So did Clement Clark Moore in his classic poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas (better known to us as The Night Before Christmas). Of course, Mr. Moore was likely onto something with that title. A bit of rudimentary history reading will show you that there really was a St. Nicholas, who was born in Turkey sometime around 270 A.D.
Historically, Nicholas was a prominent and highly generous figure in the church (yes, even the “Santa” element of Christmas has religious roots). His wealthy parents died at a young age, and Nicholas spent his inheritance to see the world. He entered service to the church because he wanted to help others, and eventually became known as the patron saint of children, sailors, even thieves.
Of course, the man was only mortal and he eventually died. Many stories arose about Saint Nicholas after his death. It’s impossible to tell which are true and which are not, but the man’s selfless, generous life in service to others obviously provided the basis for the figure we know as Santa Claus.
In our house, Nicholas’ involvement in the church is at the forefront of what we teach our kids. It’s real history – and it helps connect them to the very real history of Christ’s birth. We’ve always tried to keep the stories of Santa sufficiently vague, explaining to the kids “they say” as opposed to stating it as a cold, hard fact. We have a book we read near the start of each Christmas season, called, “A Place for Santa.” It’s a cute little book that touches on “Santa’s” life as St. Nicholas. I’ve seen other efforts made by the faithful to bridge the gap too, including a new VeggieTales video about him.
So why bother with Santa in the first place? Speaking as a realist: try to avoid him. It’s practically impossible. He’s too much a part of our culture, and he’s not going away. The kids are going to hear about him, from television, from their friends at school… heck my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher had her class write letters to Santa and he “wrote” them back. No parents were consulted or warned prior to this so they could opt out or express concerns.
There’s no avoiding Santa, so the best thing you can do is educate yourself about him, and be prepared to answer any questions honestly. Or tell them from the start who he really was.
You should also be prepared to deal with unintentional connections between Santa and Jesus – if “Santa” isn’t real, young (or naïve) minds may apply similar logic to Christ as well. Every parent should be well-versed in apologetics if they intend to share their faith with their kids. Understand the various evidence out there in support of Christ. Understand any so-called counter-evidence; it’s kind of an implied mandate (see 1 Peter 3:15 – good advice, there).
Yes, I just referenced a Scripture verse – which is a great segue into part two of this blog: Reconciling the Religious and the Secular: To Believe or Not To Believe. Stay tuned! And remember, no matter how you handle this element of Christmas, remember that whatever you tell them, is theirs for life, and it may color their own feelings about Christmas for years to come. Don’t underestimate your influence.
Note: If you do wish to let your kids share in the Santa legends, there’s a nice little book we’ve read to our kids called, “A Special Place for Santa” – it’s available here.