Christmas is just around the corner — but not for everyone. Some students and faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University celebrate the holidays (or don’t) differently than their peers. Here are some of their stories:
James Deffenbaugh (fr) never questioned if Santa was real – because his mom told him the truth from a very young age.
“I knew about him, we just knew he was a fictional character,” Deffenbaugh said.
She had intriguing logic behind this. She was worried if her kids were told Santa was real and then later told that he was fake, this could jeopardize their belief that God was real. When he was nine or 10 years old, Deffenbaugh told a few still-believing kids on his swim team the truth about Santa.
“My swim coach told me to stop a few times, and then I had to have a talk with my mom,” he said.
Deffenbaugh does plan on telling his future kids the truth about Santa’s nonexistence.
“I feel like my mom has a valid point. If you tell your kids Santa’s real and then a few years later say, ‘No he’s not’, they could think the same thing about Jesus Christ,” he said.
Stephanie Lamb (jr) is celebrating her first Christmas this year with her boyfriend and his extended family. Her parents never celebrated Christmas.
“It’s tied to a pagan holiday,” Lamb said.
As explained by Lamb, when Constantine was spreading Christianity throughout the Roman empire, the pagans had a winter equinox feast where they worshiped a god with pine trees. Constantine decided that by picking winter as the time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, they could extinguish the pagan rituals.
“For my family, there’s nowhere in the Bible that says we should celebrate his birth, and all the gift-giving, the wreaths, the trees, the lights — it’s not biblical at all,” she said. “They didn’t want us to grow up confusing and meshing pagan origins with Christ.”
This is mostly a personal choice by her parents, who met at a church that believed the same. The family attended this church until Lamb was 10. They also don’t celebrate Easter.
On Christmas day, the family always eats dinner at home together. Lamb and her sister started a tradition where they rent and binge-watch library movies, since they had an extra day that the library was closed.
“My family was never offended if someone said ‘Merry Christmas,’ and we would say it back, we just don’t celebrate it,” she said.
She thinks she will probably celebrate Christmas with her future family, but pull back and make it less consumerist.
“It’s Jesus’ day, so we should focus on Him,” she said.
Dr. Sameer Yadav, assistant professor for the John Wesley Honors College, and his wife are raising two young boys: Noah, who is five, and Ezra, who is two. Noah is very inquisitive, so when he started hearing about Santa at school, he had a lot of questions.
“We could tell he was having a hard time distinguishing between what we told him about Jesus’ birthday and the Santa Claus schtick,” Yadav said.
Yadav tried to tell him the true story of Saint Nicholas, but Noah had trouble discerning the truth from the story.
“We put Santa solidly in the fairytale category,” he said. “To this day now we’re having the problem in kindergarten where other kids believe in Santa Claus and Noah is the obnoxious Santa Claus unbeliever.”
What was most important to Yadav was for Noah to be able to understand the difference between real things, fake things and fictional things, which are purposely fake for the intention of describing and understanding truth.
“Santa Claus screws all that up, so I wanted to disentangle it,” he said. This is a concept for a five-year-old, but Yadav thinks he’s getting it. “[Noah] will say things like, ‘Santa Claus teaches us about giving, but he’s not real,’” Yadav said.
While the Yadavs don’t give Noah and Ezra gifts “from Santa,” Noah knows that is what other parents do, and he has asked Yadav to put a present under the tree “from Santa” for him.
Larisa Kuehn (fr) and her family celebrate Christmas a little differently, mostly because they do everything a little differently.
For most of her life, her parents were missionaries in Bangladesh, where they ran an orphanage while raising her and her three siblings.
“We’d have this enormous Christmas party, so much good [Bengali food], like 200-300 people, [and] my mom would make like 600 Christmas cookies,” Kuehn said.
They spent Christmas day together as an immediate family, decorating a plastic tree. Although it was never below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the kids would bundle up in their winter jackets and drink hot chocolate.
Although they heard about Santa, being in such a different culture, they didn’t fall quite as easily for the stories.
“We didn’t have a chimney, so how could he get in?” she said.
She spent a few Christmases in Germany with her dad’s extended family. In Germany, most everyone Kuehn knew celebrated three days of Christmas, attending Christmas plays at a Lutheran church and visiting German markets. Her German Christmas in fifth grade was her first time seeing snow.
Now her parents are in China, so they spend Christmas in Thailand. They rent a bungalow, decorate palm trees and make sand snowmen.
“We always have a really big seafood lunch on the beach,” she said.
A Thai tradition, they light floating lanterns on the beach with locals. They also have a gingerbread house-making competition and vote amongst themselves to find the winner.
Adrian Howkinson (so) and her family also don’t celebrate Christmas.
“Jesus was born, but it definitely wasn’t during this time, and the fact that we don’t celebrate that is because Christmas is actually a pagan holiday,” Howkinson said. “We don’t try to make it what it’s not.”
They spend intentional time with their immediate family, and her mom makes Christmas candies for all the neighbors.
“What every kid likes about Christmas is the presents, and we still did that, just probably not as much as most families,” she said.
The Howkinson family also has a special Christmas tradition of their own: “We go see a movie on Christmas Eve at the movie theater because there’s never anyone there,” she said. “Lately, it’s been ‘The Hobbit [1 and 2].’”
She’s not sure if she’ll celebrate Christmas with her future family.
“I understand the fact that we don’t have to do [a traditional Christmas] just because everyone else does,” Howkinson said.