Santa and Our Savior

December 20, 2011

I am a boomer. I mention that from time to time because I want you to know one of the contexts in which I write that has had more impact on me and my perspective than I know. The older I get and the more I look backward to what has made me in part who I am, the more convinced I am that being a boomer born in 1952 has shaped me significantly. Some good things, yes; without a doubt; but some things that for so long I took for granted as having nothing to do with my relationship with God that in fact has a significant impact both on how I see and savor who God is.

I was born into a family that savored all things Santa at Christmas. He was King. My parents were not believers and did not pretend to be except on those few times when my Dad took us to church to appease his God-fearing mother. My mother was as far removed from what it means to be a believer as a person can be. Thus, Christmas was all about Santa. And it was huge. We would descend the stairs each Christmas morning way before daylight and bust into our living room to see what he brought us. It was always lots and lots of stuff from toys that we dreamed of at night to clothes that were the finest and stocking filled with enough goodies to last for several months. The celebration went on all day and into the night as we moved from grandparent to grandparent for lots of food with more and more gifts. Then came Christmas night which for me was even as a child one of the longest nights of the year. It was over. Next day was normalcy. No gifts then and no excitement. Routine returned complete with taking down all the decorations and undressing the tree. It was so sad. But it was who we were and what we did. It was who everybody else was too in our town and what they did. It was yet another way that our Mom and Dad builder generation used the myths/lies of the culture to communicate to us that our life was going to be better than theirs. They lived through the end of one war and the devastation of the Great Depression followed by the dark days from 41-45 and they were not going to see us suffer as they did. So they filled our lives with stuff laced with lies from the tooth fairy who brought money to Santa who brought lots and lots of stuff. I and so many of my era picked it all up and just passed it all on without ever thinking the kind of deception that is required to do this kind of thing and the kind of lies that must be told to keep it going season after season. And all the while trying to teach our kids not to deceive us or others with lies when we are doing exactly the same thing with them when it comes to the tooth fairy, the ghosts and goblins of Halloween and Santa Claus.

That is why I am so delighted to see God raising up a generation of younger parents whom I applaud and adore who are saying “no” to these deceptive and potentially destructive lies. They just tell the truth. And it does not stunt the growth of their children nor wound their self-esteem. There is no tooth fairy. Halloween is about celebrating the triumph of the light of the Gospel of Jesus over the dark forces of the demonic world and Christmas is about Christ. There is no Santa Claus. It is a good story that can tantalize and energize and even excite the imagination. But there is where it ought to stay: in the imagination. Read your children the stories as fictional stories and teach them what fiction means. It is make believe. Nothing wrong with that until we make it real.

I love Christmas. I can laugh at the little man in the red suit with eight tiny reindeer. It is such an imaginatively creative story and can be enjoyed from that perspective. Don’t throw it out. But for the sake of the Gospel, don’t teach it and read and live it out as if it is real. It is not. My wonderful daughter and son-in-law have chosen simply to make the whole Santa thing what it is by simply not talking about it at their house. They give gifts to their children at Christmas that come from them. They know that. They see Santas all over Cleveland and get it. I love what happened recently when Grayson our four year old was at a Nursing Home visiting and one of the patients whispered, “is Santa coming to your house?” He leaned back and said, “Hey Mom, this lady wants to know if Santa is coming to our house.” He had never thought it about that way. It is good that he never does. Keep the story where it belongs in the land of the story and celebrate what is the center of it all: the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.