I love Christmas but I don’t allow Santa into my home. I’m not anti-Santa. I think he’s cute and jolly and all that red totally matches my Christmas decor, but he just doesn’t belong. When I fill my home with Santas and reindeer and sleighs full of gifts, that’s what my kids think about… the gifts, Santa’s bulging pack, overflowing stockings. Their wish lists get longer and longer. So years ago, I told Santa that he need not bother parking his sleigh on our nine-pitch roof, nor squeezing into our gas fireplace. I was inviting a different guest for Christmas. That’s the year I began collecting nativity sets.

Every corner of my home is filled with a different nativity set at Christmas time. The children are constantly reminded that the greatest gift ever was wrapped not in paper or mylar or cellophane, but in rags. Every figure in every nativity reminds them of the Savior. The shepherds remind them that the Lord is their shepherd. The sheep reminds them that Christ went like a lamb to the slaughter. Three kings remind them that Christ is the King of Kings. The star reminds them where they will find light and truth. We still exchange gifts, but no longer do they rush us through our Christmas Eve devotional in anticipation of opening one gift before they try to sleep.

As much as I value the true meaning of Christmas and as hard as I have tried to keep commercialism out of my home, I’m actually very grateful for all the holiday fanfare. People complain when the candy canes appear right next to the pumpkins at the grocery store. “It’s bad enough that they start advertising Christmas before Thanksgiving,” my friends lament, “but Halloween?!!” I, however, breathe a sigh of relief and suppress a smile. Because commercialism has saved Christmas.

Consider all the ways the secular world has tried to remove Christ from our lives. They have banned prayer in public schools. They force the removal of the cross in public places. The Pledge of Allegiance has become controversial because it concludes with “one nation, under God,” They have even considered taking the phrase “in God we Trust” off our currency. No doubt the secularists would ban Christmas, were it not for the fact that it has become so lucrative for so many! Those of us who value Christ, value Christmas because of the spirit of giving. Those who don’t believe in Christ value Christmas because they get to take–they get to take their cash register revenues all the way to the bank.

I’m reminded of a lesson Corrie Ten Boom taught in her book The Hiding Place. She tells of being in a prison dormitory that was infested with fleas. The women hated the fleas that would bite and sting when they slept. Corrie’s sister Betsie, however, considered them a blessing. She realized that the guards stayed out of the women’s dormitory and granted them some privacy because they couldn’t stand the fleas. Because the guards stayed out of the dormitory, the women were able to keep their Bibles, read from the Good Book and derive comfort.

It might be difficult to see any merit whatsoever in the commercialism that comes with Christmas, but because we tolerate the commercialism, we are able to celebrate publicly, with everybody we meet, in every venue we enter.   We simply remember that the trees are not just trees, but they represent the universe. The ornaments represent the planets. It all reminds us of our Creator, who sent His son to earth in the form of a babe. To us the lights represent the star of Bethlehem, which showed the wise men the way to the Christ child and remind us that the resurrected Christ shows us the way every day.

Even Santa, good ole’ St. Nick, reminds us to be giving of ourselves. And although I never taught my kids that Santa stuffed himself down the chimney and left presents under the tree, I did teach them that long ago there was a really nice man named St. Nick who gave gifts to children. (Can’t quite figure out where the flying reindeer fit in, however, and I definitely won’t buy any to adorn my lawn.)

The benefit of commercialism hit home this year when I hosted a family of atheists for Thanksgiving. They were excitedly preparing for Christmas, even though they didn’t know a blessed thing about Christ. The children, aged 6, 8 and 10 were fascinated with all the nativity scenes in my home. They considered them “doll houses” and were eager to play with each piece. I sat with the children, and asked them if they knew who the baby was in the “doll house”. They didn’t. I asked them why the kings were bringing the baby gifts. No clue. Why was the baby lying in straw and not in a blanket? Again, blank stares.

While I realized the commercialism of Christmas made it appealing even to secularists, I also became alarmed. I noticed that world has begun to celebrate a “holiday season” in deference to all those who don’t believe in Christ. It feels like a bit of a slap in the face to those of us who do! Christ is the reason for the season. It is His birthday. That is why it was invented.

As tolerant as we are of the Santas on our rooftops, we can’t tolerate the removal of Christ from Christmas… and I fear that will be attempted more and more in the future. Consider the ratio of Christmas cards in the store that bear a picture of the Savior on the front compared to those with a Santa. It’s like a treasure hunt to find one that depicts the actual birthday boy.

As patient as we are with the commercialism, and as tolerant as we are of others’ beliefs, we need to beware of becoming complacent when Christ is secondary to Santa or forgotten all together. We need to remind, remember and proclaim that Christmas is the season when we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World. This birthday celebration, the birth of this baby, is the reason our own existence matters at all.

JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance.  Her website is www.smithfamilytherapy.org