Santa Claus and Christmas

I don’t remember the 60’s nearly at all, but that’s fairly common.  In the 70’s, Pink Floyd and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” set the backdrop for my first memories of levitating sleighs, flying reindeer, and the fat guy slipping through chimneys.   When I was actually introduced to His Eminence, pipe-smoking childhood heroes were still considered normal and flying was something a lot of teens did regularly.  There was no doubt about his reality.  Besides, he also had his own Little Golden Book and I had a signed photo with him.

Some years later, though, I grasped that people don’t wear disguises unless they have something to pull over on me.   The fake beard just seals the deal.  A full-blown panic attack is not out of line when encountering a disguised man who wants me to sit on his lap.  Maybe I’m delusional.   I did have to apologize for knocking down my boys and dragging them under the stroller that one year.  To this day, if I must pass the mall’s “North Pole”, my older sons will intone: “Breathe, Mom. Breathe and walk.  You’ll be fine.  We’re here for you.”  I just don’t get the whole concept of Santa and Christmas.

We as a society go to great lengths to introduce our children to Santa Claus and make sure the impression is real.  In our house, we baked cookies for him and set them out with a glass of milk before bedtime.  In the morning, there sat the plate with only crumbs and the empty glass with distinct, pudgy lip prints on its rim.  The stockings were suddenly stuffed to overflowing, and the tree no longer sat on the floor for all the pageantry underneath.  At least my dad didn’t go tromp around on the roof, like some of my friends talk about.   As teens, we began helping Mom with the baking and she showed us how, at our midnight snack,  to dust the crumbs onto the plate and poof our lips up to make the appropriate prints on the glass for the little ones to see in the morning.

So why do we work so hard to instill this fantasy when it is expected to be discarded before puberty?  They must have Halloween rules at the North Pole; if you look older than about 10, you are no longer allowed to participate.  The innocence and sweetness of a child’s faith in goodness would be seen as gullibility in someone with mental acuity.  Maybe if we keep the idea in the children’s court, we can keep it around.

The story as presented just doesn’t add up, even for children.   Christmas is about  Jesus coming to earth as a baby, born in a stable.  He is God’s own Son come here to show us what He is like.  He taught about true love and demonstrated what it looked like.  After He went up to heaven, he sent Santa Claus back in his plush red suit every year at Christmastime to remind us to love one another by buying expensive presents for everyone we know.  As long as they’re nice, go to church, and don’t otherwise deserve coal.  Glory to God in the highest – uh, yeah.

So the kids and I read Clement Moore’s delightful story again over eggnog.   No brandy needed; this is good stuff by itself. While the original poem is great, what it sounds like today is another story altogether.  The star is introduced as St. Nick, who historically resembles our modern yuletide hero not at all, although the names have become synonymous.  “When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.”  Reindeer are fairly large – this is a cool trick.  I’m not understanding why someone who’s gone to all the trouble of acquiring reindeer for a PR team would shrink them.  What does all the resizing do to my gift?  For that matter, to Rudolf?  Where’s PETA in this?  “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.”  Then, “Dash away, dash away, dash away all!”  Man, this sounds like we’re in East LA, ripping off cars.  Look small, work smart, run fast.  “And laying his finger aside of his nose” – uh-oh;  I’ve seen this kind of thing at college parties.  “And away they all flew like down on a thistle.”   Yep – it’s a flashback from the way-back days.

But really, Bren, it’s just a childhood story!

Just so my mother knows that it’s not just me being overly weird, I had the help of my sons, daughter, and three of their friends online for these ideas.  The jolly man with the goods sits up in his invisible house someplace where no one has ever found him and then goes over his list.  So He sees you when you’re sleeping… and knows what moral choices you make.  Then he comes out to each kid’s house.  My favorite remark, from Kyle:  “You best make morally straight decisions, for the sake of goodness.”  This is creepy; Santa is the ultimate stalker.

Not to mention his obvious unreliability.  The little bully from the playground received and destroyed more toys from Santa every year than any of us ever got.   We dutifully cleaned up our acts for an entire month before the big day and still got stiffed.   Nobody has ever found any trace of toy manufacturing at the North Pole.  And yet the multitude who question God’s veracity simply because they can’t see him celebrate Santa prominently every year with impersonators.

Granted, it really was a fun story to tell my little brother when he was young.  (“Honestly???  Did you really think you were going to get the dune buggy just for being GOOD???  BWAAhaaHaa!!!”)   Now, though, these are my children; my integrity is at stake.  I must teach them all about stranger danger and I expect – nay, need – them to take me at my word.  So once a year, I pay cold, hard cash to set my sweet young thang on the lap of a man whose name I do not know, is admittedly introduced with an alias, and then graciously step out of arm’s reach?  Between the hat and beard obscuring over 2/3 of his pudgy face and the stage-pillow in his shirt, I can’t identify him even with the photo of his hands on my little abductee.

Uh – how, pray tell, can I expect my children to discern the truth from my lips? When I’ve assured them of an obvious fantasy that is uncovered and recovered before their very eyes while still in their most impressionable years, how are they supposed to understand when I teach them historical fact?  Why would they ever trust me with their little hearts, when I’ve played with their fondest dreams?

They know the truth, you know.  They know there is a gift to be had at Christmas, and it is free.  Santa is just an imposter, sitting on a throne that is not his.  It turns out to be only the adults that grasp for him and confuse the players:

“Please God, I know I didn’t do too well on the first half of your rules this year, but I did stop coveting my neighbor’s ass and I never murdered my wife.  That makes 5 out of 10 this year, which means my batting average is approaching awesome.  Please send that big promotion at work.  I ask in Jesus’ name, as you’ve promised in John 14:13: ‘You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.’  Amen.”

“It’s Christmas Eve. And reverberating in our hearts is the reality of 2 Corinthians 9:15. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” Christmas is about giving, because Jesus is a gift. It is not hard to make Romans 6:23 a Christmas text. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The first Christmas was the gift of Christ coming into the world to purchase for us eternal life by dying in our place and rising again. And this Christmas – as every Christmas – is a time when God is still giving.”   (John Piper,  DesiringGod.org)

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