One of the most exciting times of the year globally is Christmas, and it is especially so for children. Many adults still remember fondly what Christmas used to be like for them.
“Growing up, I looked forward to Christmas because of the promise of gifts, different food and a new set of clothing,” says Pastor Gitau Muchugia of Trinity Chapel Thika.
Children still look forward to Christmas, but whereas in the past it used to be about finally getting a new outfit, visiting the grandparents and eating chapati for the first time that year, nowadays chapati is so common it is cooked on the roadside so many children have it fairly more times than once a year, and it is a lot more colourful, at least outdoors with all the lights, Christmas trees and supermarket Santa Clauses.
But at the core, when your child asks you what Christmas really is, what do you tell them? For most people in Kenya, with 85 per cent of the population said to be Christian, Christmas is simply about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Pastor Kevin Kilonzi, the lead pastor of Mavuno Downtown, says this is ultimately what he wants his child to remember about it.
“Christmas has become about lights in malls, pomp and colour in the air and travels, gifts and easiness at home. These are not bad, but altogether we have “no room in the inn” for the Saviour,” says Pastor Kilonzi.
“For me, I want my child to celebrate yes, but to still know that Jesus pulled off Christmas so that he could ultimately pull off Easter. I also want to squeeze in the fact that the cross is the ultimate Christmas tree. I know I am off the top, but more and more homes need to remember that because culture won’t do it for our children.”
In the movies and in other countries abroad, Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) is a major fixture of the season. He is the patron of Christmas, who brings gifts to children. Children are usually encouraged to be good that year so that Santa brings them the gifts they want at the end of the year.
Santa will pull up in the air on the back of a reindeer-drawn sleigh in the middle of the night, sneak into the house through the chimney, part of the magic of course being the mystery of how the portly white-haired and bearded old man fits through the narrow chimney and back up, and will leave presents for them under the Christmas tree.
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Of course, ‘Santa’ is usually their parents, who sneak into the living room at night through the wide open corridors, but the children wholeheartedly believe it was the ‘real’ Santa who did it until they grow a little older and discover it is not true, which research shows happen between the ages of five and seven.
Santa will even sit at the mall and children will take pictures with him, believing he is the real one. Malls in Kenya are starting to have their own Santas, but it is a bit different here, and while children recognise him, most do not believe he is a real mythical being, just another one of the Christmas fixtures.
Your child may believe Santa is real because of the environment around him (such as school, the native country of origin or the family’s personal traditions). Indeed, there has been a huge debate since Santa became a thing as to whether you should tell them the truth or not.
In an interview with Fatherly, a leading digital platform for fathers, psychologist and parenting expert, Dr Justin Coulson, advocates for telling them the truth. In Kenya, this may hold even more weight because the child is likely to run into other children who certainly know the truth and will ruin the magic for your child anyway.
“Christmas is going to be exciting and fun and enjoyable whether children know the truth about Santa or not. In the same way that I can watch a movie I know is complete fiction and still find the movie tremendously enthralling, our children can know the truth about Santa and still find Christmas every bit as exciting,” he says.
And if your child asks who Santa is by seeing him at the mall or in the movies, Dr Coulson’s advice still applies.
However, Pastor Kilonzi says that most children already know what Christmas is really about, at least from school or from songs or from church. Still, how do you broach the subject if you want to make sure of it?
Pastor Kilonzi says that an easy way to start this conversation at home is to ask the children an easy question like, “What is your favourite Christmas Carol?” or “What is your favourite family rhythm around Christmas?
When they respond, he adds: “You can then take any of the songs or the family memory and relate it to the Christmas story. For example, if their deal is travelling, you can relate it to how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem to deliver a saviour. If it is the decor, you can relate to how the first Christmas lacked decor because of where it was held at. If it is food, you can relate it to how Jesus was born in a manger, which is where cows eat from.”
According to Pastor Kilonzi, any of the above premises and more of a similar nature can then be used to give the children a clear presentation of the gospel. “That we are sinners, there is no other way for us to be saved apart from Jesus,” he says.
Pastor Gitau, of Trinity Chapel, agrees with this. “The season is about one promise that God fulfilled through His son. As we enjoy this season, it is my hope and desire that my children get to grasp how deep, wide and long the love of God is. The love I give them is just but a small percentage in comparison to the love of the Promised Messiah.”
He also believes as a parent you should extend this same love not only to your children, but also the needy and vulnerable in our society, and expose your children to that love.
What if you are not a Christian? You can still celebrate it with your children.
At the very least, parents can ensure children remember the season as that; a time of love, happiness, sharing and a time of giving. Some parents specifically ensure that as a family they visit a children’s home to volunteer or the children’s wing of a hospital to deliver some gifts to the children there so that they, too, can share in the happiness of the season.