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How Do You Explain the Virgin Birth to Children?

Is it a sign of bad parenting that my kids have no clue who the Three Wise Men are?

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For the past several years, as a way to expose our kids to different belief systems and because we value tradition, we’ve attended Christmas Eve services at local churches. One year, having resolved that I wouldn’t shy away from talking about religion with my children lest they think it a taboo subject, I decided to follow it up with a bit of context. I called them to join me on the couch; open on my lap was a large illustrated Bible identical to one my grandmother had given my brother and me in vain 30 years ago. As I flipped to the chapter in Luke titled “The Birth of Jesus,” my kids gawked at the garish pictures of hirsute men and demure women.

A few sentences in, they began interrupting me with questions. “Where’s Galilee? Who’s Herod? What’s Myrrh?” I deferred the questions to my wife. She made a beeline for Wikipedia. When my children asked why Jesus appeared to have two fathers – God and Joseph – I couldn’t help thinking of the old controversy over school libraries carrying books about kids with gay parents. By the time I had finished trying to explain the visit from the Magi, I was seriously regretting this. Far from providing context, I had confused them.

But here’s the thing: Holidays are the playoffs for religions, too. It’s the time at which they tell their most outlandish stories (I’m looking at you, Virgin Birth). Whether or not you’re engaged in daily discussions of those stories and their meanings with your children, you’re bound to have some tough questions to answer. And that’s great: Questions are a sign that the kiddos aren’t just blindly accepting what they’re told, that they’re thinking for themselves.

Besides, the main byproduct of these holidays’ religious roots – an emphasis on expressing our love and caring for others once a year – is a good thing. In the current state of our world, we should take it where we can get it, and make sure our kids do, too. If you’re a secular parent and you’re worried about being hypocritical, think of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and uber-atheist, who admitted a few years ago that he still likes to sing carols at Christmastime.

My aborted attempt at teaching my children more about Christmas didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. That year, after I had dragged the tree to the curb, they collected the leftover needles from the floor and put them in a special box. What can I say? My children love holidays. They’ve imbibed the magic of the season despite understanding little of the reason. Here’s hoping they never forget the story of Jesus, his two dads and the three security guards.


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