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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Telling Children the Real Christmas Story

by Ron Estrada

I have a bone to pick.

The audience gasps. “What? Ron is annoyed with something or someone? It can’t be.”

Ron waits patiently while you all laugh at your little joke. “Ahem.” Maybe not so patiently.

As children, we were all told the Christmas Story in Sunday School or by our parents or by the kid on our bus who’d attended every Metallica concert within a hundred mile radius. His version was a bit different.

But, you know what? At least his version was honest. Wrong. But honest.

Every year the Christmas Story went the same:

Mary gets pregnant.

An angel appears to Joseph.

Stuff happens.

Long journey to Bethlehem.

Cows and pigs and chickens.

Jesus is born.

More stuff happens.

Wise men drop in.

Snoopy wins first prize in the lights and display contest.

We heard the story so many times that we gloss over it when we read the first chapters of Luke. I think it’s time we stop glossing.

Did you know that it was only a few years ago that I realized that the wise men visited Jesus in a “house”? That’s what my many versions of the text say. In fact, many of the “facts” we learn as children are merely a Reader’s Digest version of the Christmas Story so we can get the kids off to bed early because, as you all know, the real Christmas Story is how many curse words fly out of Dad’s mouth as he begins the all night journey of “some assembly required.”

Okay, I take it back. Stop praying for me.

Now, admittedly, we’ve done better over the years. In our “reality age,” we like to see and read the truth as it happened. No sugar-coating. War movies now contain enough blood and carnage to satisfy the most avid gamer. When cowboys go off to do battle with the Indians, it turns out we were not always the good guys. And the adult movie versions of Christ’s birth and crucifixion are disturbingly realistic (I barely got through The Passion. I will not see it twice).

Hollywood is maturing. Novelists are maturing.

Is it time to allow our children’s version of Bible stories to mature as well?

Is it wrong to take our board books and include the next chapter of the David and Goliath story and show that severed head? Maybe.

Should we let the kiddies know that Lot’s daughters were a tad naughty after that whole pillar of salt incident? Probably not.

But is it too much to tell a child that the wise men probably showed up long after the birth of Jesus? Maybe as much as two years? I think they can handle that harsh reality. And they can probably handle many of the other details of the Bible often left out of the children’s versions.

Why am I on this rant? Because, if some of my favorite radio preachers and teachers are correct, Bible illiteracy is the number one problem among Christians. We cannot defend our faith because we don’t know it. Too harsh? I don’t think so. And part of that fault has to begin with how we write Biblical accounts for our children.

Yes, we have to condense some things. Simplify the language. Include a flannel graph. But we can help them along on their long journey of Bible study by giving them accurate details at an early age.

In my last past about writing for kids, I stated that we should never “write down” to our young audience. They’re smarter than we give them credit for. They want the truth. And maybe, just maybe, some of those ten year-old boys would find Sunday School much more interesting if a severed head did show up in the midst of their nice lesson (I’m thinking a pop-up book).

So what do you think? Are we sugar coating Bible stories too much for the kids? As Christian kidlit writers, should we begin the push toward accuracy and reality in our rendition of Bible stories?


Ron Estrada has multiple published magazine articles, including a regular column in the bi-monthly Women2Women Michigan. He also freelances as a technical writer, specializing in white papers for manufacturing and consumer products. He writes spec fiction, hovering somewhere between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (he prefers the term pre-Last Days), but has also dabbled in Mystery and Suspense. Turn-ons include long walks to Frosty Boy and dinner by Kindle light. His real-writer’s blog can be found at  You can e-mail him at or catch him (at pretty much any time) on Facebook. Twitter handle is @RonEstrada. CB handle is God’s Gift.


  1. Ron,

    I agree. My parents have never put the Wiseman with baby. We had our Bible reading time and he whole story was read. They didn't sugar coat it, but they didn't go into detail to explain what happened. It naturally dawned on us eventually. When God was ready for us to comprehend.
    We can tell the truth in love without sugar casting it. To many kids already see the stark, broken reality of the world in their own lives. Our job is to give them a different means to find their safety in Christ. Hopefully that last part came out right.

  2. I agree. My parents explained a long time ago how the wiseman came later. The Bible was never sugarcoated for me, but my parents never stopped to explain the dicey details. We comprehended that eventually. On our own.

    It breaks my heart, kids today live in the stark, broken reality of the world. Our writing should lead them toward Christ in a way that is understandalone to them. The Gospel has never been sugarcoated. We need to give it to kids in truth with love. Plant the seeds. God will grow them when the time comes.

  3. The truth needs to be told so what kids learn is not just stories but the reality of the gospel. I read some facts last year that opened my eyes to the Christmas story after all these years. We always see Mary in labor on the donkey coming into Bethlehem, but the scriptures say "while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered." They may have been there for weeks before Jesus was born and more than likely stayed with relatives because of the census and the stable was the attached part of the house where the animals stayed because the house was already full of other people. Makes a difference in how we read Luke 2.


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