I’m 52 years old, but I remember well the Christmas eves of my childhood. Our grandpa spent the night with us, and he always slept on the couch in the living room. We needed him there to open the front door for Santa Claus.
Sure, Santa usually came down the chimney, but our fireplace was a fake one. We may have been young, but even we figured out there was no way for Santa to enter our house through that means.
Grandpa was also responsible for making sure Santa saw the milk and cookies we left for him in the kitchen. We always wondered if Grandpa actually ate the cookies, and he teased with us enough that we never really knew. I can’t remember all the gifts we received each year, but I vividly recall Grandpa’s delight in telling the stories of his encounters with Santa.
Seldom did we sleep deeply on Christmas Eve. I doubt we had “visions of sugar-plums” dancing in our heads, but I’m sure we had thoughts of Matchbox cars, army men, fishing gear, and bicycles—thoughts about “stuff.” I know we wondered just how early on Christmas morning we could head downstairs to the Christmas tree. Every Christmas Eve lasted only 24 hours, but the memories still linger for me now decades later.
After I became a follower of Christ at age 13, Christmas Eve took on new meaning. It was the reminder that God Himself had come to earth. He so loved us that he stepped into our story, paid the penalty for our wrong, and conquered death on our behalf. The Babe in Bethlehem would be the Teacher, the Healer, the crucified One, the Victor over death.
He would be my personal Savior—and suddenly the “stuff” of Christmas would lose some of its meaning. Living in the light of eternity does that, you know. The temporary things of this world lose their significance when we really know the God of Christmas.
I remember another Christmas Eve when I found myself sitting in traffic, stuck with others who had delayed their shopping until almost too late. While sitting in my car, I smelled a horrendous odor in the distance—so strong, in fact, that the stench worked its way through my closed car windows. What I could not see in the dark was a large garbage dump in the distance. Mounds of garbage piled high, and men working overtime continually dumped even more refuse on those piles.
The whole scene seemed odd, actually. Our cars lined up by the dozens, all of us on our way to buy “stuff”—stuff that would eventually wind up at the top of this same dump. We were spending temporary money to buy temporary stuff that would land on this temporary pile. And, frankly, most of us still do.
Please don’t hear me wrongly, though. I am not arguing against buying Christmas gifts. Christmas is indeed a time of giving. What I’m arguing for is making sure we keep our priorities straight.
Christmas is about God’s giving Himself as the present. It’s about remembering that the everlasting One gave all so we might live eternally with Him. It’s also about building memories with the people God graciously places in our lives. For me, the words of Michael Card beautifully capture these ideas:
“‘When God gives a gift, He wraps it in a person,’ Bill Lane [Card’s mentor] said. The true purpose of giving a gift is that in the giving, we give a part of ourselves. And so it is with God, the greatest of givers. The special people He gifts us with are another way He gives us Himself.”
This Christmas Eve, do give gifts. Even more importantly, though, be a gift to someone else. The “stuff” will all disappear, but the memories of life shared with others will last a lifetime.
You finally get to use that vacation time and have some time away from work to spend over the holidays. What will you do?
Before you go planning a thousand things and overwhelming yourself, make sure some quality, fun and relaxing family time is included. You should make the most of your family time during this time. Here’s how.
1. Be flexible. You may work from a rigid schedule at work, but now is not the time for that. Throw that out the window. During this time, be flexible and even spontaneous. Be prepared to go with the (family) flow.
2. Be intentional. No matter what you do, try to include your family as much as possible. They are going to be so excited and looking forward to a lot of uninterrupted time with you. But if you are not engaged with them, they’ll be very disappointed. Even without planning everything, you can be intentional and focused on making family time a priority.
3. Be relaxed. Your main goal is to love on your family well. And let them love on you too. So take it easy, relax and don’t pressure yourself to do a whole lot.
4. Be creative. If you live where it snows, you have some great opportunities for winter fun. You can go sledding, ice skating or even skiing. Date nights can get more creative in the winter. Think outside the box and do some fun, creative things with your family.
5. Be fun. Above all else, have fun and be fun for your family. Making this time full of family and fun will have you ready to go back to work and take on the world when your time off ends. Just be sure not to overschedule your family.
What will you do to make the most of your time off over the holidays?
For the past five years, December 1st has marked the arrival of Elf on the Shelf in our home. It’s a highlight of the season. You’re probably familiar with how this works, but I’ll fill you in just in case. Affectionately named Goody, our Elf’s job is to observe our behavior and report to the North Pole every night to let Santa know if we’ve been naughty or nice. When Goody returns each morning we find him in a different location. Peeking out between the leaves of a silk poinsettia plant, dangling from the dining room chandelier or munching on some snacks in the pantry. We engage in a month long game of Hide-and-Seek with our felt-covered friend! (Some people claim their Elf on a Shelf gets into mischief while they sleep, but Goody is on the straight and narrow.)
The other day I was trying to figure out exactly why my children love this game with Goody. They are more excited for his arrival than they are for Santa – and Goody doesn’t bring presents! Then it dawned on me – Goody brings out the best in them. He encourages them to be kind and helpful. And it FEELS great when you are your best self.
You know who does that for me? Jesus. Of course you knew I was going to say that. But what if I told you I was going to make Jesus my Elf on a Shelf? No, I’m not planning to create a fabric Baby Jesus and hide him in my house every night. (That might be frowned upon in some circles.) But here’s what I am going to do:
1. I’m going to look for Jesus every day. Just like my children search for Goody in anticipation first thing in the morning and then delight in his discovery, I’m going to make it my mission to seek Jesus in the most unusual places each day. I’m going to keep my eyes open for the presence of Christ in every corner and crevice of my life. I’m going to recognize his light in the grouchy sales clerk and the impatient driver honking his horn behind me. I’m going to marvel at his works shining brightly despite the bullying and terrorism and apathy and despair of our world. And when I find him, I’m going to jump for joy!
2. I’m going to let Jesus bring out the best in me. If I can keep Jesus – the reason for the season – at the forefront of my thoughts all month, then I won’t get wrapped up in the consumerism and stress of the holiday. If I can search for Jesus first, then I’ll give him an opportunity to guide me and challenge me and shift my priorities. I will let his presence bring me peace and joy – and let go of the stress and chaos inside me. I will lean on him to help me become a light in the darkness for others.
3. I’m going to have fun! Jesus loves all God’s children – including me and you. And if we’re planning to throw him a birthday party at the end of the month, I think he wants us to have fun with it! I typically spend the entire holiday season planning for other people’s fun. Sometimes I forget to enjoy myself. So while my children are filled with joy for Goody’s arrival, I’m going to take a break from my seriousness and have fun being a child of God. Instead of merely checking my list, I’m going to approach my holiday preparations with a joyful heart.
And you know what else? I’m going to make sure my children understand that while Goody is here for a month, Jesus is watching over us every day. That it’s more important to be on God’s side than it is to be on Santa’s “nice” list. And that serving others is much more fun when there is joy in your heart.
How about you? What will you do to put Jesus “on your shelf” this season? Share your suggestions with us here!
Speeding 68 miles an hour and plunging 162 feet at an 81-degree angle on its opening drop, Outlaw Run has drawn tourists from across the world to the Silver Dollar City amusement park in Branson, Mo., since its mid-March opening—and those entering the theme park in December will be greeted by another breathtaking sight: a 5-story-tall Christmas tree adorned with 400,000 lights.
As part of the park’s annual tradition, each evening’s lighting of the tree is accompanied by entertainment director Brad Schroeder reading James Allen Francis’ classic, Christ-centered poem “One Solitary Life.” Attendants take in the twinkling of 5 million lights as they stroll the park, listening to tunes like “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” chorus. They’re invited to watch the story of Christ’s birth unfold throughLiving Nativity, an original play with an 11-member cast. And they won’t want to miss the Gifts of Christmas Holiday Light Parade, the final float of which features the Christ child under a banner that reads “The Greatest Gift of All.”
It’s all part of “An Old Time Christmas” at the park, where each stage production includes a carolpaying tribute to Christ’s birth.
“When it comes to Christmas, we aren’t afraid to say we’re a Christmas festival,” says Brad Thomas, president and general manager of the park. “We know that everyone who works here and everyone who visits here is not necessarily a Christian. We don’t want to be [too] forceful … but we do believe that we have values from which we shouldn’t run.”
It’s no surprise that Silver Dollar City, owned and headed by Pentecostal businessmen Jack and Peter Herschend, is so bold in its presentation of the reason for the season. Yet amid the sweeping cultural onslaught to strip Christmas of any “religious messaging” that might offend, few venues are as forward with their public celebrations. Secularism continues to neuter public Christmas expression, leaving such companies standing in stark contrast to a growing opposition.
Despite this pop-culture tsunami, however, a quick look around shows the first six letters of this national holiday—Christ—still occupy a central place in millions of Americans’ hearts. And this December, you’ll find depictions of Jesus still appearing—intentionally and boldly—in numerous well-known venues throughout the country.
In Support of Christmas
The annual candlelight processional at Walt Disney World’s Epcot was conceived by Disney creative consultant Derric Johnson to tell the story of Christ with the accompaniment of a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir. Holiday evenings at the Orlando theme park include a reading of the biblical account of the virgin birth with a celebrity narrator, who in the past has included Jim Caviezel, Brian Dennehy, Susan Lucci and Marlee Matlin (in sign language).
Many Christmas attractions at the neighboring SeaWorld reflect holiday glitz, but Christian visitors have been pleasantly surprised by O Wondrous Night, a production based on the Christmas story that features more than 30 carols and includes live animals, life-size puppets and special effects.
The annual Christmas show at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall includes a manger scene with live camels, sheep and donkeys, though the famous Rockettes and Santa Claus still headline the event. This year, audiences in Atlanta, West Palm Beach, Tampa and Nashville can enjoy the touring production.
At Tennessee’s Dollywood amusement park, 300,000 are expected to experience the park’s celebrated “Smoky Mountain Christmas.” Its O Holy Night production, performances by southern gospel’s Kingdom Heirs and the nightly “Carol of the Trees,” which synchronizes thousands of lights to holiday music, are among the Christ-centered elements at the park, which recently announced a $300 million expansion.
“We embrace the Christian message of Christmas,” says entertainment director Paul Couch. “That’s who we are and what our guests have come to expect. We are uncompromisingly clear that the holiday is about [Christ].”
And five years ago, the Creation Museum near Cincinnati inaugurated “Christmas Town,” a walk-through re-creation of a first-century village where actors portray Joseph and Mary holding the newborn Babe and an archeologist explains the circumstances surrounding His birth. The weekend productions include several other dramas, including a depiction of John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, describing two of history’s most famous births. Crowds have more than doubled since Christmas Town’s inception, often matching summer tourist season numbers.
Campaigning for Christmas
But it isn’t just theme parks and dramas that keep the name of Christ alive this time of year. Numerous activists, citizen groups and websites have also risen up to counteract an offensive that has long sought to make Christmas politically incorrect.
Indeed, in many public schools, Christmas programs have morphed into “holiday shows” and Christmas vacations have been labeled “winter break.” Last December, parents in Montana and Massachusetts declared carols a form of bullying. And in October a Bordentown, N.J., school district banned “religious” Christmas music at any school concerts.
Such opposition prompted Bodie Hodge to compile The War on Christmas. The new book dispels popular misconceptions about the holiday, points out religious components of holiday displays are indeed constitutional, and encourages people not to surrender to anti-Christmas forces. A writer and researcher for Answers in Genesis, Hodge grew frustrated by outspoken opposition to the Bible, creationism and prayer that has snowballed into attempts to censor all things Christmas.
“The thing that really surprised me was when we started to see attacks on nativity scenes,” he says. “Even private businesses were attacked.
“One year I went to Australia, and they had nativity scenes all over the place. A lot of people down there are not Christians, but they didn’t have a problem with it. Yet in the States, it was a big deal. We noticed this trend and said, ‘This is an attack of the enemy.’”
The veteran author hopes to educate the public—especially children who have learned to equate Christmas with Santa Claus and presents.
“We want to teach people what Christmas is all about,” Hodge says. “We want to get back to a focus on Christ and worshipping Him.”
Still other incidences show encouraging signs of pushback—like what happened when a woman in Arizona asked for help in 2009 after the U.S. Forest Service rejected her child’s designs for ornaments that would say “Happy Birthday, Jesus” and “Merry Christmas” to be displayed on the Capitol Christmas tree. Thanks to intervention from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the federal agency dropped its rule against ornaments with a religious theme.
More recently, in 2012, a pair of pro-crèche forces turned back attempts to remove nativities from public places. Last June, the Texas legislature adopted a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in public schools from legal challenges.
“I am optimistic about our ability to educate more companies and government officials about their ability to celebrate Christmas,” says Jon Scruggs, legal counsel for ADF. “But I also know that many companies and government officials will prefer to pander to ‘politically correct’ sentiments.”
After battling the PC police since forming its “Keep Christ In” campaign in 2005, Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association (AFA) thinks the anti-Christmas crowd is weakening.
“People want to express themselves about Christmas,” says the president of AFA, which each year ships up to 1 million “Merry Christmas” lapel buttons. “I think the general public sees the ridiculousness of not calling something by its real name.”
So while some are pessimistic about the fate of holiday tussles, Wildmon takes the opposite view. He says that over the past eight years, the percentage of retailers limiting the use of Christmas greetings has declined from about 75 percent to less than 25 percent.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel is encouraged too. He organized Liberty Counsel’s “Friend or Foe” Christmas campaign a decade ago to educate the public—and, if necessary, go to court. Among the group’s victories are overturning bans on nativity scenes, helping seniors prohibited from singing carols at nursing homes, and coming to the aid of students whose schools dictated not wearing red or green during December.
Liberty Counsel issues a “Help Save Christmas” action pack annually, including legal memorandums about the holiday, buttons, bumper stickers and sample newspaper advertisements. The group also maintains a “Naughty or Nice” list spotlighting retailers that permit “Merry Christmas” and other observances while frowning on those who expunge all references.
Liberty Counsel assembled its first list after Boston renamed its 40-foot-tall Christmas spruce a “holiday tree,” ignoring the tree’s historic significance: Nova Scotia’s shipped a Christmas tree to Boston annually since 1917 to honor the city for coming to its aid after the Halifax Explosion in Halifax Harbour.
Staver observes numerous parallels in the retail world. “We realized you couldn’t find Christmas trees on the street; they were called ‘holiday trees’ and ‘holiday decorations,’” he says. “There were clerks who couldn’t return a ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting even if the customer initiated it.”
And Wildmon points to another development: “Stores like Wal-Mart and Sears now have a Christmas shop within their stores—something that didn’t exist a few years ago. How are you offending people when you acknowledge Christmas? That’s bizarre.”
Today I walked into my local supermarket to grab some lunch, and I was greeted by that familiar Salvation Army bell. I love that sound. For me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without that tinkling. I always throw a few dollars into the red kettle each time I pass it because it reminds me that Christmas is about giving. And I love the warm smile and the “Merry Christmas” or “God bless you” I receive from every Salvation Army worker who is collecting donations.
But today was special because the man wearing the red Santa hat was an African-American. He’s not the first black man I’ve seen dressed as Santa. But I took special notice because our nation has been embroiled in a shamefully embarrassing argument about Santa Claus’ skin color.
In case you missed the drama, it started last week when Christopher Rougier, a ninth-grader in Rio Rancho, N.M., was told by a teacher that he couldn’t dress like Santa Claus at a school party because Santa was white. The boy’s father got upset and asked that the teacher be disciplined, and the school issued an apology saying the teacher made “a stupid mistake.”
It didn’t end there. After columnist Aisha Harris wrote that she felt racially oppressed as a child because Santa is usually depicted as white, Megyn Kelly of Fox News jumped in the fray and told viewers, “Santa is just white.” She later said she was only trying to be funny, but Fox’s Bill O’Reilly jumped in to declare, “Santa is a white person.”
I’m not sure where this strange debate will end, but it’s not going in a good direction. I want to wave my hands and call a time-out. It’s too soon after peacemaker Nelson Madela’s funeral for Americans to get so polarized—again—about race.
Are we ever going to learn to put the past behind us and accept each other?
For the record, the original Santa Claus—his real name was St. Nicholas—was a Greek bishop who lived in Turkey in the fourth century. (He probably had dark features, and he didn’t wear a red suit or ride a sleigh!) But St. Nick’s racial background is irrelevant. Over the years, his image has morphed to fit cultural styles, but Santa Claus remains an enduring symbol of Christian charity that the original St. Nicholas embodied.
The whole message of Christmas is that the Son of God came into the world to set up His kingdom in our hearts. He wants to live inside of us, regardless of our color, our economic status or our ethnic or tribal background. When Jesus was born, poor shepherds worshipped Him; later some Gentile sages visited Him. His lowly manger was their common ground. At Christ’s birth, the angels declared “on earth peace among men” (Luke 2:14, NASB). The Prince of Peace made it possible for all races to live together.
I sometimes get discouraged when I listen to the racial tension that still festers in our nation today. This year was marked not only by the Trayvon Martin trial but by the deaths of hundreds of youths killed in gang violence in Chicago and other cities. We are not a nation at peace.
Author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow felt a similar sadness in 1863, during the Civil War, when he wrote the poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It later became a classic hymn. Part of the song says:
I heard those bells today in front of a suburban grocery store, thanks to the Salvation Army. When I saw a black Santa collecting money for people who don’t have food, I saw the real miracle of Christmas. It was a simple reminder that the peace of Jesus, and the love and generosity He puts in our hearts, will one day win out over hatred, racism, terrorism, exploitation and injustice.
I pray you will hear those bells during this holiday season. Share His love. Spread His peace. And don’t forget to drop some money in the red kettle.
J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma and the director of the Mordecai Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @leegrady. He is the author of Fearless Daughters of the Bible and other books.
“I don’t know if you know this, Piers, but a lot of the Santas you see at department stores, those are fakes,” Coulter answered. “He lives at the North Pole. You go find black Santa at the North Pole. He’s white, Piers.”
Jesus, she noted, was a real person.
“He was a Jew,” she said. “If you want to tell me Jews aren’t white, OK. He’s Jewish, so [he’s] whatever that is.
Turning to the controversy over conservative criticism of Pope Francis, Coulter, said the statement she finds most surprising is when he said what many interpreted to mean you don’t have to be Christian to go to heaven.
“Look, you may think that. Maybe a lot of people think that. But if you’re head of the RNC you’re not supposed to be saying, ‘Hey, don’t bother voting Republican. That isn’t supposed to be your position,” Coulter said.
Morgan suggested that perhaps the pope just believes in inclusiveness.
“But if you’re head of the Catholic Church and your position is, eh, join any church — in fact you don’t even have to be a Christian — maybe you could get a show on CNN, but maybe you shouldn’t be head of the Catholic Church,” Coulter said.