I really thought a blog post asking where Santa Claus belongs in the celebration of Christmas would be original. Then a bunch of people posted stuff on the exact same subject last week, totally stealing my holiday thunder.
But it goes to serve the point that in this post-modern, deconstructionist era, where everyone seems intent on bucking the trends, people just don’t know what to do with Santa Claus.
Everyone has a story about how the found out the truth about Santa. It’s almost a rite of passage. But people are kinda split as far as what they want tell their own kids. Some tell their kids he’s real just because that the way they were raised. Others think it’s a ridiculous idea, a kin to telling your child that Superman is real.
I figured out the truth when I was four years old, noticing my family’s curiously nonchalant attitude to lighting up the fire place on Christmas Eve, so I’ve never been too sentimental about telling my kids that he’s real.
I also want to make sure that my kids understand that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. I want their presents to point towards God’s love for them, not of where their names fall on the Naughty/Nice List.
But something happened a few years ago that shifted my perspective on Santa.
My nieces were watching “The Polar Express” and I caught the end, when the train finally arrives at the North Pole. There’s a beautiful moment as the children stand outside Santa’s house, surrounded by the great host of Santa’s elves. The elves start singing Christmas carols, hopping up and down, eagerly awaiting the appearance of St. Nick. I found myself sitting down with the kids, goosebumps on my neck, hypnotized by the magic of the scene.
I thought long and hard why the movie effected me the way it did. Buried beneath my cynicism about Santa (and the fact that the animation in “The Polar Express” is a little bit creepy), something deep down inside me resonated with that moment. The anticipation of seeing this mythic, legendary character stirred me in ways I didn’t expect.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was something of God in that scene. Something like the “great multitude” worshiping before the throne of God in Revelation 7.
Then there’s the fact that Father Christmas shows up in “The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe”, one of my favorite books. Apparently C.S. Lewis thought that Santa had some place in the holidays, or at least in Narnia with Aslan and company.
Even the origins of Santa Claus, once you sift through the commercialized iconography and a few pagan influences (including some characteristics of the Norse god Odin, of all people) go back to the real Saint Nicholas, the 3rd century Greek bishop famous for his faithfulness and generosity. One story even has him providing dowries for three impoverished daughters, saving them from lives of homelessness and poverty.
So what am I going to tell my kids about Santa? The truth.
That he was a good man who lived a long time ago, but don’t need to appease him or worship him.
I’ll advise them not to be loud mouths to their friends who believe Santa is real.
And I’ll tell my kids that the real Saint Nicholas loved God very much and that he knew that Jesus was not just a good man who died a long time ago. That he knew Jesus’s birth was certainly something worth celebrating.
I’ll put Santa up there next to Aslan and Superman as characters worthy of imitation, who teach us to be better people, but are ultimately just stories. And hopefully those stories will point my kiddos up towards the real Hero, the great King of kings, who gives the greatest gifts of all.
Thanks for reading and, whatever your thoughts on Santa Claus, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years.