What Do We Tell Them?

 What do you tell people when you don't celebrate Christmas?

By Mary Stephens

Proverbs 22:20-21 Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?

A reader whose family had quit celebrating Christmas asked me what we say when someone wishes us "Merry Christmas" or asks about Christmas.  She wondered how to help her children specifically to deal with such questions and comments.  Kids have a tendency sometimes to state the facts in a less than gracious manner, or they can be confused about what to say or to whom.

This has been one of the tough issues for so many Christians who have chosen to abstain from certain celebrations.  Whether it's Christmas, Halloween, cultural or tribal customs, or whatever, there can be uncertainty about how to answer questions.   An added challenge, at least to the Christmas equation, is that too often it's the other believers who are most offended when we choose not to participate.  Weirdly enough, unsaved people often "get it" because they are more focused on the carnal and lustful aspects themselves.  This complicates things considerably at times.

I am certainly not an expert on this.  I do different things at different times depending partly on the people, partly on the situation, and partly on how I'm feeling at the time.  I don't always give the answer that I really would have liked to have given, that's for sure. 

I know my own family talked about these things at some length when we first stopped observing Christmas.  (I also remember there being some conflict with others before that about Halloween and Easter baskets.)  I don't recall having any cookie cutter answers prepared, but the little kids may have been told something to simplify the problem for them.  My recollection is that we usually gave the shortest answer we could, which was usually, "We don't celebrate."  Back then it seemed like more people wanted to know why not.  I don't remember what we answered them at that time either.  Now when I get into this situation I usually say something to the effect that we don't believe that Jesus was born in December, so we don't celebrate His birth then.  It doesn't seem like they usually ask many more questions after that answer.  Occasionally they might ask if we celebrate it at another time, which we don't at this point in time.  Some Christians are now familiar with the fact that there are other believers who don't celebrate and they simply don't ask any more questions after they hear we don't celebrate.  People closer to us sometimes still do push the holiday on us in one manner or another, or they feel compelled to defend themselves, which is always....um, interesting.

I also remember that various ones of us got ourselves into trouble by telling others the "what and why" of the thing.  This included adults as well as children.  Kids are more likely to get into these situations than adults, though.  One of my brothers has a recollection from even before we stopped celebrating of getting himself in trouble for enlightening a friend that "there is no Santa Claus." <grin>  I think it still disgusts him that this ever happened because his friend was from a Christian home and my brother didn't expect him to believe in Santa since we never did.  There's nothing that will get you into trouble like telling a kid that their parents have been lying to them!  Talk about hornets and such!

Here are some ideas that may be of some help.

Teach your children the reason for what you are doing.

If the children are in the dark as to the reasons for what you are doing, they will not be able to give an answer that will make any sense to others.  "I don't know" and "Because my dad said so" are not answers that are going to give an honest testimony.  They will tend to give the impression that the kids are being forced against their will or kept in ignorance for a sinister purpose.  (I'm not saying that this is the truth of the matter, but that's the impression that can and will come across to some.) 

2 Corinthians 8:21 Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.

Paul was speaking here specifically of money, but there are things that parents do sometimes with their children that can give the wrong impressions about the home.  It is not always possible to avoid this, but in as much as it is possible, it is good to be open and above board in our dealing with others so that they can see that we are not hiding things.  Sadly, there are some parents who think it is their right and for the family's good to keep everything as secret as possible.  Even if there is no evil going on behind the scenes, this can give the wrong impression and this is neither good nor helpful.

Also, the children will be able to appreciate what you are doing and why if they are instructed in the reasons for it.  My dad actually didn't demand that we stop celebrating entirely all at once.  He taught us and encouraged cutting things back or changing things until eventually we were ready to lay the whole tradition aside.

Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

My dad was trying not to provoke us to wrath.  He nurtured us by instructing us in the reasons for separating away from the Christmas tradition, and he taught us the admonitions of the Lord by showing us the scriptures that support or define why we needed to do this.

[You can read more about my family's experience here:  Why We Don't Celebrate Christmas.]

1 Peter 3:14-15 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

This passage, I think, is speaking specifically of our hope of salvation.  However, there is a principle for being able to answer with meekness and fear (of God) for the things that we be believe and hold to be truth.

Talk about the answers.

One friend of mine said that they talk with their girls about what they are going to say to people who ask, "What are you going to be for Halloween?"  This is a good idea with any situation like that.    Healthy discussion beforehand can be very helpful.   Have a conversation with the children about what would be an appropriate or inappropriate answer to questions about Christmas or any other similar issue.  Ask them what they would say and then talk about whether that would be speaking the truth in love.

Ephesians 4:14-15 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

It is interesting that Paul speaks of not being children any more and immediately says we should speak the truth in love.  This is one area in which kids tend to struggle.  They tend to either say things thoughtlessly, too bluntly or even with self-important delight in setting the other person straight.  Paul is warning against childish behavior, which we can all fall into, and specifically warning us to speak the truth, but with love.  This may challenge you as well as your children.

I would recommend that you not opt for cookie cutter answers, though.  Encourage your children to think of their own appropriate answers.  This will help them to grow up into Christ in all things as the verse says.  When parents put too many words into their kids' mouths for them, things can come out badly or people may get the wrong impressions.  When they (and you) learn to come up with their own answers and to speak them with love, the results are likely to be much better.  And, the kids will learn to think for themselves before the Lord, which is an important skill too often lacking today.

Talk about when to tell more and when to say little.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 ...a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

Sometimes a brief "Thank you" is enough when you're wished a "Merry Christmas."  It's good to express our zeal for the Lord, but in some situations it might not be necessary to tell someone that you don't celebrate Christmas.  This would probably be in busy or awkward situations in public or in groups when a discussion is not going to be appropriate.  I sometimes just say, "And happy a new year to you."  (They don't always know how to take that, but it doesn't lead to questions.)

On the other hand, there are people who will wish you a "Merry Christmas" for the specific reason that they know you don't celebrate and they want to put you on the spot.  This happened to my family, my mother in particular.  The situation got pretty out of hand with one person before she would stop beating my mom over the head with "Merry Christmas". 

These are tough things to deal with.  It is good to discuss what to do with this type of problem ahead of time to some degree, especially with the kids.  What will you say?  What should they say?  The Lord can help you with specific words for specific situations, as we found ourselves, but there are also times when a decision has to be made as to how to proceed with someone who is determined to make a point.  In some situations where pressure is being used to make trouble in your family or embarrass your children it might be well for the kids to simply tell the person politely to, "Please talk to my dad or mom about that." 

I don't remember if it has come up on this subject for me, but there have been a few times when I've referred someone to my husband because I didn't feel comfortable with going head to head with them on whatever the subject was. It didn't seem like it would resolve or improve anything to do so.  Directing them to go talk to my husband, however, does sometimes have the effect of reducing the offensive behavior on their side because now they know I'm not going to talk about it, and usually they don't want to bring it up with my husband.  They probably have a good idea of what he will say, and that he isn't going to be wheedled or intimidated by them.  This serves a useful purpose.

Another issue that can come up is how many questions to answer.  Sometimes people start asking all kinds of questions about why you don't celebrate and act very curious, but they really don't want to know the truth.  A lady once told me that she sometimes answered people to this effect, "Do you really want to know?  Because if you don't, I'm not going to tell you."  Her principle behind this was simple enough.  She figured if they really weren't interested in making a decision on the subject they were better off not knowing.  Once they knew, they would have to make a decision.  Obviously, if they weren't committed to consider the truth about the thing, then they would choose to ignore or, even worse, to mock what she told them.  While I don't know if this was exactly the right approach, I understand where she was coming from.  If you know someone isn't going to listen to you, how much do you say?  This bears consideration. 

Matthew 13:10-13 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

This is an interesting example and could be useful for discussion on this subject.

Pray for wisdom and help in the situations that will arise.

Praying together about these issues and challenges will help establish in the children's minds that they need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in each situation as it arises (assuming they are born again believers themselves).  It is necessary to know what you believe and why, but ultimately, we need to follow the leading of the Spirit of God in each situation.  He will not always guide us to use the same response in the same situation, even when humanly that might make sense.  He also will give us the peace and confidence we need in Christ to face the difficulties.

Philippians 4:6-7 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

It is interesting that the peace of God that keeps our hearts and minds comes after making our requests known unto Him. 

We also need to pray for boldness to actually speak up when the time is appropriate and it's God's will.  The temptation to keep our mouths shut in order to avoid conflict can be self-defeating. 

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;

Conclusion.

You can never figure out all the things that will come up or the responses you will get.  You especially can't anticipate the things your children will say to others!  The important thing with this, as with so many things, is to walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Knowing and being persuaded of what you believe about Christmas (or any other vain tradition of man) is still walking by faith.

Lastly, the Lord has given you this liberty.  Stand fast in it.

Romans 14:5-6 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Graphics by Mary Stephens
Dec. 2014
CA