Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: December 2013

Growing Up Without Santa

You read that right, our boys have grown up never believing in Santa. Every year, we field endless questions from friends, family and strangers about our choice, so I invited Hubs to post about our decision.Don’t worry, we haven’t thrown out the Christmas tree…yet:) -Amanda

Christmas is again upon us, and it is time again to reflect on what is special about this season of the year. December is the time of year that Christians have chosen to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Our family has chosen to take a narrow road in our celebration of Christmas, though I feel that more and more are taking this path in recent years. We are asked by family and friends how, or why, we celebrate Christmas in the way that we do and so I believe it is appropriate that we share our beliefs and motivations.

To start out the dialogue in a strong and robust fashion, let’s dispense with one rather controversial belief (or non-belief) of our family: our boys have never believed in Santa. 

The first two Christmases with oldest son, we gave Santa the college try. We left cookies and milk out before Christmas morning and made sure to eat most of it before our son got up. We talked at length about Santa, how he would come and give presents to the whole world and make the children happy. We told our oldest that Santa gave toys to nice boys, and bad boys didn’t get toys as the tale goes. Finally, we ensured that all the big presents had Santa written on them to ensure that they would know that all really good presents came from Santa. 

Somewhere in the midst of all that, Amanda and I were both plagued with guilt. I will also add that we were entering an amazing era of our lives when God was really grabbing both of us by the collars and forcing us to take notice. The guilt we felt became more tangible each year to the point that we finally opened up to each other that we felt uncomfortable about the way we were handling Christmas. We had trouble putting our fingers on it, but at the very least we felt that we needed to focus more on Jesus…more on the birth of God as Man. As we got closer to Christmas, the discussion became more and more focused on presents and Santa and as much as we tried to divert it to Jesus, it just kept coming back to Santa, reindeer and presents.

At some point we commented to each other that if you removed Jesus from Christmas and never mentioned Him at all, not a single thing would change to a child…not a single thing, The entire experience of Christmas is centered upon activities, traditions, and characters that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any biblical event. 

Oh yes, we’ve heard the arguments. People tend to get rather enraged when they find out that you have deprived your children of Santa. The most dogged defences for Santa typically focus on one or more of the following:

  • Santa is Jesus.
  • Santa represents Jesus.
  • Saint Nicholas was a real person in history. 
  • Belief in Santa stimulates the imagination of children and prepares them to believe in God (Santa as “training-pants” for future believers).

Let me take these one by one.

Santa is Jesus:
Santa gives toys to good kids and coal to bad kids. This is diametrically opposed to the gospel. Jesus saves good and bad kids. Being good and bad has nothing to do with salvation. Salvation is all about GRACE (getting what you don’t deserve) through the recognition and acceptance that Jesus literally and brutally died for our sins while we were still sinning. Suggesting that Santa is Jesus soils the very name of God by substituting God’s justice with man’s inherit sense of justice. Misrepresenting the character of God (particularly to children) is most definitely a no-no for believers: Santa is nothing like Jesus.

Santa Represents Jesus:
There are plenty of places in the bible where God recommends best practices for raising children. My favorite is Deuteronomy 11:19. But nowhere in scripture does God ever advocate substituting His name with another character with supernatural powers so that kids can “better understand Him.” Jewish kids were busy committing the Torah to memory at pre-school ages and definitely didn’t substitute historical figures as being God-like so that they could better relate. Of course we know this is the case and if were were honest with ourselves, we know full well that such a thing would never be suggested in scripture because we know that God is a JEALOUS GOD (Exodus 34:14). I strongly suspect this jealousy isn’t limited to adults, but probably even greater toward children (i.e. Mat 18:6). 

(I am not suggesting that anyone is trying to lead children astray, but I do believe that there is a creature who has a vested interest in doing so. The habitual tactic throughout scripture and history is to–brace yourselves–replace the Lord with something else that meets the same need but is not the real McCoy). 

Saint Nicholas was a real person from history:
Nikolaos of Myra was a Greek who was born in the third century and is long gone. He may well continue to live in another dimension (Heaven) assuming he gave his life to Jesus when he was actually alive, and all evidence that comes down to us strongly suggests that this is the case. Nikolaos was canonized (recognized as a catholic saint) by the Catholic Church in the 19th century. Though Nikolaos’s earthly body is dead, we hope and even believe that Nikolaos is very much alive in Heaven, and we fully expect to meet him when we pass from this realm. But in English vernacular, Nikolaos is a dead man. As Christians, we don’t pray to the dead; we do not believe that they have special ability to judge us, we don’t attribute earthly supernatural abilities to them, and they do not have hidden earthly lives. There is not a shred of scripture that suggests that Paul, Peter, Augustine, John Wesley, or Moses himself still dwells among us and performs supernatural acts past death. But even if they did, we all know they would be operating under the express marching orders of the King himself. Santa, however, seems to operate completely autonomously and exacts his supernatural authority using solely his own judgement, just as any deity would (we sing songs to this effect…”he makes his list…checking it twice…”). The bottom line is that, as Christians, eternal life is a promise that we will not enjoy here on earth. Celebrating the eternal character of Santa is a supreme distraction from the man who ACTUALLY beat death.

Santa Clause is “Training Pants” for Future Believers:
Our religion is a monotheistic one. We have one God. Our God created the heavens in 6 days. Our God parted the Red Sea to save his people in its hour of need. Our God put Abraham to sleep while he sealed his covenant with His chosen people (so as to not mislead us to believe that he had to hold up “his end of the bargain”). Our God vanquished armies and forged nations. Our God defeated the British invaders with tornadoes and used them to put out the fires of our Capitol in order to save our young nation in the War of 1812. Our God gives us (not only biblical figures) dreams and visions, tongues and prophesies. Our God wrote our name into a book before time even began. Sounds like a mighty cool movie with an awesome John Williams theme song, huh? Now, while you are still pondering the enormity of such an awesome deity….let’s turn to….Santa. Meh. This fellow distributes merchandise crafted by elves to “good” boys and girls, and gives coal to “bad” boys and girls. Does Santa help us understand and love Jesus? No, not unless we utterly misunderstand the character of Jesus. Let me be clear: Santa absolutely misleads boys and girls about the very character and nature of the Lord. In every important way, the tale of Santa is carefully and purposefully designed by our Enemy to skew our later comprehension and understanding of the Aleph and the Tav…the Alpha and the Omega…the one and true God. The only way I can imagine Santa would help is that some astute children would breathe a sigh of relief that the real deity does not use good and bad behavior as benchmarks; Santa would thus serve the same example to children as the ancient gods of the pagans served to illustrate how much better an alternative Jesus is to what they had been worshipping. And worship is exactly what we call our treatment of Santa, where we erect images of him, we leave offerings for him, we sing songs about  him, we even pray to him.  Let’s be honest…most pagan gods didn’t have a fraction of the authority we have assigned to Santa. Let’s take Geras, for instance….this is a Greek god who’s only ability was that he was old. Yes…Geras was the god of old age. He didn’t have the ability to see what you were doing when you weren’t with him (in fact, people could most definitely hide from Greek gods). Do you suppose that God would have the slightest problem with us teaching our children to worship the pagan gods so that they would better understand Jesus when they were older? 

Let us elaborate a bit further on the case that Santa enables youngsters to have a frame of reference in Jesus. In this vein, I think it would be useful to point out a couple other personal observations on this topic. For one, I have often lamented that modern Christians are somewhat disadvantaged to the first generation of Christians (nearly 2000 years ago) because these individuals had access to first hand eye-witnesses who actually saw amazing things (stone moved, body gone, dead raised from graves and walking around; Pentecost, the curtain the Holy of Holies ripped in two…the list literally goes on and on). Was it any wonder that so many came to the faith so quickly when people that they knew and trusted staked their lives and reputation on the story that was soon documented and sealed with pain and blood by these same eye-witnesses?

Similarly, as a child, I had personal direct evidence that Santa existed. There were the cookies which were half eaten. The milk was gone. The presents appeared around the tree. Parents told tales of hearing footsteps on the roof. But ultimately…we all come to realize that this was a ruse…perpetrated by extremely well-meaning adults. These trusted witnesses fabricated the story and the evidence to allow for the existence of a supernatural being that ultimately was found not to actually exist at all (in our realm).

For most young minds (particularly in this very cynical world), do you think this multi-year evidence-tampering program helps or hurts children to buy into the fact that evidence that they will NEVER have access to…and witnesses that are far less trustworthy than their own parents are somehow more believable and factual? Let me also add that for the few years that I was a youth group leader, I had multiple kids (eleven to thirteen-year-olds) express concern that the adults who were still telling their brother and sisters that there was a Santa were misleading them regarding God, as well. Isn’t it natural for kids to suspect that God is only a tale we tell each other to make us go to sleep faster and worry less? Why wouldn’t they think that, and doesn’t the Santa-conspiracy actually edify these concerns rather than allay them?

With Santa, we train children to love, adore, and hope for the future return of an omnipotent being that could hear their prayers, could discern what they did when nobody was looking. Ultimately every child will  learn that this creature does not exist, and is supposed to shrug this off as a wonderful fantasy. I don’t know about you, but I am distressed and dejected when fantasies are dispelled. Every time. Without fail. And every human being feels the same way and if they don’t, they are deluded by their own designs. The only way that you can manage to manage to avoid this heartbreak is if you tell your children that Santa is Jesus or at least represents Him. And this approach leads them directly into the arms of a Jesus that saves good people and damns bad people… Wrong. Dead wrong.

Having then dispensed with the arguments typically made by folks in favor of Santa, we decided all we were left with was the decision itself. Note that we did not fully understand and comprehend all the theological issues we have laid out here–we rather had a rough logical understanding of each mixed with significant emotion and sentiment. Unable, however, to let Santa go purely on logic we decided the reasonable thing to do is pray and let God speak to us about the next step. One thing that we’ve learned about this faith is that if you really do have a question for God, and can manage to let go of your preconceptions just a little, God will nearly always answer in clear terms (I will add that in our experience, praying together also seems to be key). Thus we put out a question for God, and the answer came back in very loud and clear to us: “I am enough.” At this moment, doing anything else but returning to a Jesus-focused Christmas was unimaginable.

And so Christmas is about Jesus. Easter is about Jesus. Today…is about Jesus. During this time of year, while with our children, we try to continually steer the discussion about this holiday back to the significance of the day nearly 2000 years past…the trials of Joseph and Mary’s new family…the poverty and destitution that was surely theirs given the orders of Herod leading to their exile in Egypt days following the miraculous birth. We try to remind ourselves that the presents of the wise men were not toys, trinkets, tools, or clothes. In our vernacular, they were not imminently useful (though I suspect the gold was in Egypt). Instead of some kind of trivial gifts of utility, these gifts showed the sacrifice of the giver in anticipation of the unimaginable sacrifice of Immanuel (“God With Us”).

 

   

Trailer-School goes to Carlsbad Caverns

I know what you’re thinking.

What’s in New Mexico?

It’s not what’s in New Mexico, it’s what’s under New Mexico that should have you racing to schedule a trip there as soon as possible.

Caves.

Jaw-dropping caverns that contain the seventh largest chamber in the world.

Who knew that under this facade lie some of the worlds most amazing caverns.

 We RVed at the KOA in Artesia, NM which is a halfway point between Roswell and Carlsbad. There are very few parks to camp in near Carlsbad but this one is clean and offered lots of space between lots.

The caves are located in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is in the Guadalupe Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert, and like many other national parks, offer several Fee-free days/weekends situated around national holidays. Choosing a fee-free weekend is helpful to the budget if you want to take any special tours…which you do. Trust me.

We sprung for the audio tour which helped Youngest stay engaged during the hours of hiking. We entered through the Natural Entrance which they claim should take 1 hour to hike. We walked pretty fast and it still took us an hour and a half. I’m not sure you would see anything if you were walking fast enough to complete the 1.25 mile hike that sends you 750 feet below the surface in only an hour.

Natural Entrance

We took the elevator back up to the surface for a picnic lunch and then made the descent in the elevator again. We spent the next two hours hiking around The Big Room, a 357,480 sq. ft. chamber that will leave even your kids speechless.

Big Room
Big Room
Big Room

Most of the ranger-guided tours were full during the fee-free weekend, so it’s important to book your tours online. They offer every kind of tour you can imagine from your young family to your adventurers, just be sure to check the age and ability requirements before booking. We waited to take the Kings Palace Tour until our second day, after which we completed the Walnut Canyon Desert Scenic Drive.

A chamber in the Kings Palace.
A view from the Walnut Canyon Drive.

The park rangers offer the Junior Ranger program as well as lesson plans for teachers and learning material for kids.

We made another stop at the Living Desert Zoo and had fun getting up close to local wildlife and landscape. The zoo also houses a small natural museum of sorts and a selection of bones, fossils, horns, and the such for kiddos to hold and handle.  

We spent a free evening at a historical two-theater movie house on the square in Artesia. The town has loads of free art and sculpture lining the streets.

If you have a week to spare, you could easily combine this trip with  one to Guadalupe National Park and Fort Davis, Texas.

Surviving Icemageddon

I imagine you’ve heard of the ice storm that had crippled North Texas for several days. If you are from the north, you probably laughed at the cartoon drawing of Texas with a giant “closed” sign over the state. You also probably chuckled at those southerners who don’t know how to drive in the winter weather.

Born and raised in Ohio, I used to scoff at those crazy Texans too. Until my third winter here when I found myself trapped on an icy overpass with my 6-month-old strapped into a car seat behind me. I spent 4 hours traversing a stretch of highway that normally would have taken 30 minutes. My poor mother-in-law spent those hours with me.

That’s when she learned that I do, in fact, know several swear words.

Ice storms in Texas are no joke. We have little to no salt for the roads, and frankly sand does little to help a car attempting to drive over an ice rink. Most of the time, the horror lasts only a day or two then we go back to wearing short sleeves, but Icemageddon left us trapped for six days.

Thankfully we stocked up on gas and groceries before the storm, and the boys filled the wood pile to keep us warm. I learn something with every storm, and this one was no different:

  • Do not let the pool pump stop running, in fact buy a backup for emergencies.
  • Let the water trickle in the shower all night to keep your well-head from freezing.
  • Little boys will happily participate in art projects if trapped in a house for more than three days.
  • Coconut oil can be substituted one to one for butter in baking recipes. 
  • Flax seed meal can be substituted for eggs in baking recipes. 
  • Dogs can ice skate.
  • Deer come really close to the house in the freezing weather. 
  • Keep your rifle handy. *See above*

That looks like a pretty layer of fluffy white snow doesn’t it? Nope. That’s 4 inches of solid ice people.