So, What About Santa Claus?

My husband and his sister JoBeth, circa 1950

((I’m so glad you asked….))

People are putting up Christmas trees early this year as we are all desperate for familiar anchors that will hold. We long for the comfort of traditions, the sights and sounds of the season, and what could be a more common sight than Santa Claus? Except this year there are no storefront Santas….. sigh.

Weaving together the wonder of Christmas involves one part birth of our Savior and one part life of a saint. The character of Santa was based on a real-life saint–Nicholas, to be exact. It would be easy to blame our culture and their cashing in, literally, on the character of Santa Claus, but let’s not be so hasty. You might be surprised to learn the real story of St. Nick.

NICHOLAS WAS A REAL SWELL GUY

St. Nicholas of Myra, from a village in modern Turkey. The church calendar recognizes his generous life with the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6. And no wonder; He was a generous man as well as a champion of the poor, employing people to make clothing for the needy and distributing food to the hungry. One of the best-known stories about him provides a toehold on the origin of Christmas stockings. (Sorry.)

Nicholas had a friend, a wealthy shipping merchant, who lost all of his ships and their cargo during a violent storm. The man was devastated because he had three daughters of marrying age and with this loss went any chance of contributing wealth to their dowries. Nicholas wanted to help. He had the resources, but he knew his friend would hesitate to take charity. Nicholas came up with a plan; after dark one night, he dropped a bag of gold coins through the open window of the eldest daughter’s room. Some of the coins fell into a stocking that had been hung out to dry. His generous act became the tradition we have hundreds of years later of hanging those stockings “by the chimney with care.”

If your family celebrates the birth of Jesus as the central focus of Christmas, bringing Santa into the mix can be sticky business. Some families deal with that in a stellar way. One family I know observes the church feast day of St. Nicholas as the day they open their family stockings. You may consider doing this, using it not only as an opportunity to tell your children about the real St. Nick but also to spread out the bounty of Christmas morning to more than a single day.

When I posed the Santa question on social media a couple of Christmases ago, my friend Marcie responded, “We do full-out Santa. Make lists, leave the fireplace doors open so he can get in the house, cookies and milk, carrots for the reindeer. The biggest and best present is left until Christmas Eve and it’s from Santa. Childhood is so fleeting, I’m going to eke out every bit of magic I can before my kids are too old to believe anymore.”

“Christmas,” she continued, “is absolutely the day we celebrate Jesus and his birthday. My kids have never questioned why Santa exists on Jesus’ birthday. It’s two completely separate things in their minds.” Continue reading “So, What About Santa Claus?”

The Day I Cleaned the Front of my Fridge & Found Peace in my Heart (an Advent Post)

The arrival of Advent marks the beginning of the church year, anchored  on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In the year of our Lord 2020 the date is November 29th.  

The word itself is from the Latin word ‘veni’–adventus–coming; the cornerstone of the Advent season is the idea of making room for God to come.  It is a time of waiting, as Mary did, with the impossible promise that a Saviour would be born, the miracle of light coming to a dark world.

What does that have to do with refrigerators? Let me share.

Several Novembers ago we ordered new kitchen appliances. Everything started when the microwave died. This led to a conversation about the refrigerator which had been humming its way loudly to a definite motor-y end. We dug out the paperwork and discovered it was 17 years old.

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 Here’s a photo of our kitchen on Thanksgiving 2000, one year after we got it, all brand spanking new. That’s my daughter Leah the chef basting the turkey. (And no, I will not talk about the psychedelic flooring.)

After a thorough appliance reconnoiter, husband and I decided to join the Black Friday crowds and head to Home Depot to shop the sales. Four hours later, we had ordered for the first time in our 35 plus years of being married, a matching fridge, dishwasher, microwave and range.  In stainless steel. We are so de rigueur.

Maybe my dear readers are already aware of what such a purchase entails, but I don’t think we considered exactly how arduous ‘out with the old, in with the new’ would be under such circumstances.   The ensuing chores involved five hours of cleaning of stove and frig–outsides only–and cleaning of the floors underneath. I was appalled at the debris and gunk on the sides of our range. I blame 16 years of coffee prep. And under the frig? I will also not talk about that.

I had been notified via my daughter in our Thanksgiving conversations a few nights’ previous that magnets do not stick to stainless steel. Oh. I did not know that.  Well, there go the grandkids’ photos and artwork. There go my magnets from Laguna Beach and Yosemite, my favorite of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, Scripture cards, quotes I liked.  A veritable bulletin board available 24/7, reminding me constantly of All the Things.

People, places, Bible verses, photographs. Football schedules, equivalent baking measures, an encyclopedia of input and information.  It would all have to go.

So, empty box in hand, I swept the surface clean and windexed it to its glorious, brand-new, former self.

My words are a paltry representation of the change that came over me after that clean sweep. Every time I walked into the kitchen I literally breathed a peaceful sigh. Husband and I remarked many times throughout the next day at how pleased we were with the empty space, that it seemed quieter in the kitchen because all the noise on the fridge was gone.

Here’s what I realized: surrounded 24/7 with visual input had driven me to distraction. I spend a lot of time in our kitchen area and when the wide expanse of the refrigerator front presented some breathing room, I reveled in its beauty. The added breathing room flowed into a spaciousness extending to the decluttering of kitchen counters and drawers. Ahhhhh…..

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I thought about Mary’s pregnancy and wondered if she started ‘nesting’ before Jesus was born. I imagined her flurry of organization and beautifying, painting the nursery, cleaning the floor, preparing the room where He would sleep when He came home. Of course, that’s only my imagination; I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t have a room of his own.

The impending arrival of our new appliances seemed a fitting metaphor for the season. I am desperate to hear from God, to make room for his answers in my life, grateful for a soul-deep clearing out to welcome Him.

Like the birth of the Christ Child to come, the answers I seek for all that concerns me may arrive in an unexpected package. But now that I’ve made a way to see, preparing room with the physical space has allowed an emptying in the best way, that I might be ready to receive His word to me.

I can sit in this season when the world around me is physically gray and dark, but I look forward to the Light to come. How about you, friends?  What are you making room for today?

Celtic Advent

Have you found that when God shows you something there are “sacred echoes” (as Margaret Feinberg calls them) everywhere?

When I wrote “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas” I shared with readers about observing the four Sundays of Advent to slow down the holiday season. Certainly nothing new; people have been doing this for hundreds of years.

But observing Advent is new-ish to me.

Dr. Susan Forshey at the Contemplative Cottage is one of those sacred echoes in my life.Because Advent begins this year on December 3rd (my daughter Leah’s birthday) the days before Christmas are fewer than is often the case. Observing Celtic Advent this year is one way to extend the season. Susan at Contemplative Cottage has designed a calendar that begins on November 15th and marks the 40 days prior to Thanksgiving, through Christmas and all the way to Epiphany, with a simple encouragement for each day.

It’s a lovely way to slow down the days with intentional living. Enjoy!

Living the Church Year

“As with much of Christianity, the church year can be radically countercultural, a much-needed light showing a better way to live. In a culture that is often too hurried and distracted, the church year helps us pay attention because it draws our focus continually back to Christ.”

-K.C. Ireton, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year

Worldwide history is always referenced by that watershed moment when Christ came to earth. We mark time as either B.C., ‘Before Christ’, or A.D. Anno Domini, Latin, meaning ‘the year of our Lord.’  It makes sense, then, that we should keep time according to a church calendar, particularly as believers in a kingdom that is not of this world.

The church year or church calendar (used interchangeably) has two parts, like a large circle divided in two. One arc of the circle places the beginning of the church year on the first Sunday of Advent 4 weeks before Christmas.  This period stretches until Pentecost in May or June and tells the story of the life of Christ. The second arc of the circle goes from Pentecost until Christ the King Sunday at the end of November, and tells the story of the life of the church.

The word ‘liturgy’ comes from the Greek leitos, of the people + ergon, work: leitourgia, in other words, “the work of the people” or public duty.

As believers in Christ, the work of the people is when we flesh out our roles as light in the world, honoring God with our words and practices. And what better time to do that than at Christmas when a dark world needs this light?

Annual Christmas liturgies are like a glance from a moving train with a view onto the same landscape. The landscape is our daily life and the rituals are the reminders to slow down as we travel, giving us a gift of hope. We revisit familiar terrain each year we “pass by” Christmas in the annual traditions that surround the holiday; thus, the liturgies become an icon through which we see God.

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Word Play—Icon

The word icon is from the Greek word eikon,  meaning likenessimage or picture.  How icons ended up being a term for the thumbprint graphics on a computer desktop seems a little odd. But think about it. When you click on a particular icon, a way is opened that takes you to view what’s inside, a window to another place, and widens your vision to something more. This technological use of the term, embraced by all of us who own a computer, is derived from Orthodox Christian theology, where icons are considered a window into the holy. The simple outline of a cross or candle or a drawing of the star of Bethlehem are symbols that help us catch a glimpse of God. They are a part of the annual liturgies of Christmas.

REVISITING RITUALS

Maybe like me, you shy away from connecting the word “ritual” with anything in the church. The connotation of the word didn’t leave much room for the spontaneity of the Spirit of God—so planned and confined. But I’ve found there is great comfort in the repetition of a prayer, a benediction or psalm, one that engages us with other believers. This reminder of prayers lifted around the world throughout time reminds us we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether reciting the Doxology or the 23rd Psalm, taking communion or saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison, these practices bring us back to the center—where God is.

A ritual is simply a custom or practice of a formal kind—formal in the sense that it has a form, something repeated and defined. When we use a form, it makes space for something. Annual holiday practices, rituals if you will, can become a means to seeing God more fully. Simple things like lighting a candle and reciting Scripture tune us to the practice of looking for Jesus in the Christmas season when we intentionally hold a space for Him to come.

Will you join me this Christmas season in doing LESS, not more, and pray about what you might take away from your busy life to make room for more of God?

That is the heart of Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas.