I like Phil Robertson. As the patriarch of the Robertson clan he carefully maintains his image as a curmudgeon who is perpetually disappointed in the ways of the world, but the twinkle in his eye betrays the joy he has in life. More than that, his family’s willingness to share the same space with him reveals Phil Robertson’s capacity for love. He may practice grumpiness but he is no grouch. What Phil is, is a sage. Wrapped up in his redneck shtick is a lot of wisdom and those who choose to listen will learn a thing or two.
Last night I was watching Duck Dynasty with my wife. We are unabashed fans of the show. This episode was devoted to the celebration of Halloween and the boys were converting their warehouse into a house of horrors. Willie loves Halloween because it allows him to eat candy and scare kids—what’s not to love. Phil is less enamored with the festivities. With a cranky “harrumph” the old man says that he has no affection for such pagan traditions. His public Christian faith makes the celebration a little bitter for his liking. The rest of Phil’s family shares his faith, but not his reluctance toward Halloween. They care little for the holiday’s origins and choose to enjoy the fun of costumes and candy.
Phil makes an accommodation and participates in the family fun. He even dresses up for the event—he dons a tie and announces that he is a yuppie politician. There is that snarky humor that we love! But this reversal begs the question: does Phil’s participation in Halloween diminish his witness? Obviously he has decided that it doesn’t, and I agree with him. His reasoning was made in the closing prayer where he asked God to help the family distinguish between faith and fantasy. With all his hucksterism, the old man Phil has it right, fantasy is fine as long as we can differentiate it from faith.
Some time back I spoke with a friend about leading children through the myths of Santa into the truths of Christ. In my home my children have always known that Santa and the tooth fairy are illusionary. Partly, this has to do with us wanting to keep the categories of fantasy and faith distinct in our children’s minds. It is also because my eldest child doesn’t stomach fantasy well—when she lost her first tooth her biggest concern was that some fairy would rifle through her stuff. So we have always told them that these fun characters are imaginary. But since they are fun we include them in our festivities. We have gifts from Santa, the tooth fairy doles out cash, and a bunny hides eggs. We don’t allow the elf-on-the-shelf because if anyone is going to scare my children into right behavior it is going to be me! Other than that diminutive pretender, we celebrate all the other holiday characters because they add color to the events. But they can’t add meaning to these special moments and this is why my kids know that they aren’t real.
What if your children believe with all their hearts that once a year a magical man travels the world shimmying down chimneys and delivering gifts? Such a claim is so extraordinary that their belief is just cute; it’s a fleeting trait of childhood that will soon fade away. There is no harm in this, is there? Perhaps not, even probably not. But for some children, the discovery that their supernatural benefactors aren’t real will bruise their capacity for faith. When it comes to presenting the God-man Jesus who was born of a virgin and rose to life after death their credulity is in short supply. They have little trust left for supernatural benefactors. Our playful deceit has unwittingly corroded their willingness to believe.
When asked to advise parents on this score, my advice is quite consistent, tell your children the truth. It won’t hurt them! They will still enjoy Santa, still delight in the Easter Bunny’s hiding skills, and try to stay awake while their tooth rests under the pillow. Yes, some magic might be lost but our Christian holidays do best without it, the truth is glorious enough.
Like Phil’s family, we will dress our kids in costumes and we will eat too much candy and when all is said and done, we will thank God for making faith real and fantasy fun.