Anyone who knows me knows of my longstanding problem with Santa Claus. Kid you not, I lost a teaching job once because I told a bunch of 2nd graders at a Christian school that he was not real. I know, I know, “How could you?”
The reason I could and did is that until that very moment, I literally did not know that kids believed. As in truly and wholeheartedly believed. I don’t remember ever believing that Santa Claus was real, though I remember packages under the tree “from Santa,” but c’mon, I recognized my mom’s and my grandma’s handwriting, not to mention that the wrapping paper was identical to the paper I had used to wrap my own gifts in! (My grandma continued to write “from Santa” until her last Christmas, when she was 94 and I was 47!) (It is possible I did believe, but I do not remember this.)
Brian and I had to teach the children about Santa Claus when they were each about four years old, just so they would know what people were talking about. We were always very careful to say, “Now, remember, some kids think he’s real, so just be nice about it. If they say, ‘What do you want Santa to bring?’ you can say your parents buy your gifts.”
Then there was that sublime moment in April, 2005, when, upon seeing a news photo of John Paul II’s body laid out in all its papal regalia, our seven-year-old daughter announced, “Look, Mama! Santa Claus is dead!”
However, I have decided to throw in the towel, because some battles can’t be won or even waged with any decency. The reason the moment has now come is that today, while doing dishes (in itself sort of miraculous), I have closure on a Santa Thought I’ve struggled with for a long time, and here it is:
He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!
You see, Santa Claus has Godlike qualities—omniscience (he knows everything), omnipotence (he can do anything), and omnipresence (he can be everywhere all at once, at least one night a year), but then we tell you later that he isn’t real.
No wonder kids don’t believe the next story we give them about the real God—they think He’s going to turn out to be a myth-for-children too.
Today’s thought was this: what if we go ahead and use Santa Claus as a picture of God. Settle down, you yourself use a Pilgrim progressing down a road, or a Lion and a bunch of little British kids to tell The Story—or more recently, a boy with a wand.
The first thing we need to do is get rid of Santa’s works orientation. You know the drill: if you’re not good, you won’t get any presents. Or, cut that out, or Santa will leave you coal in your stocking. Except, of course, Santa does leave presents and doesn’t leave coal. Even if you’re bad. Let’s redeem that.
Let’s co-opt Santa and slather him with grace and make him a Christmas parable.
What if we flat-out told our kids: Santa is a made-up story to show how good God is and especially how good God was on the First Christmas, when Jesus was born.
God is good and he gives good gifts to everyone who believes in him. It doesn’t even matter if you’re good or bad, because your badness is forgiven. That’s why Santa Claus can bring presents to even kids who disobey because they believe in him.
God is like that. When you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior-Brother, God is your Father, and He will always give you good gifts, no matter what. He will always protect you and keep you. One way we think about that at Christmas time is by using the story of Santa Claus. Now, sometimes we don’t have a lot of money to get your great things. Some Christmases you just get socks and a new toothbrush, but that doesn’t mean we love you less, just like it doesn’t mean God loves you less when things are not going so great. It just means that’s all the money there is, and notice that socks and toothbrushes are good things. They are little blessings that you need to be well and happy.
Okay, it needs tweaking, but give me a break—I only thought of it a few hours ago.
What if Christian kids were able to say to their friends from non-Christian homes, “Nope, we don’t have to be good to get good gifts. We are never threatened with coal in our stockings. We are always promised good gifts for Christmas, as much as our parents can afford and are good for us so we don’t get spoiled. Because Santa is a picture of how God loves us, and gives us good gifts. We don’t have to earn His gifts. We get them because He is good, not because we are. We celebrate this story on Christmas, because Christmas was the time God sent His biggest-ever gift, His Son Jesus.”
Okay, granted, no kid will ever say that. But we could say it, if we wanted to. If we wanted to do something good with and for the Santa Claus story, and I’m not saying we should. Only that if you do, this is one idea that might be helpful in making the American Cultural part of Christmas mesh more smoothly with the religious celebration part.
Also, it opens up a way to talk to your young nieces and nephews in a sweet, happy-Christmas way that will offend no one.
Maybe even Santa Claus can be made redemptive, flying reindeer and all. Give me your thoughts.