I wanted to share some thoughts because this has been a conversation among my clergy friends and even among non-clergy parents I know. And while Nathan and I are definately not in the main stream thinking, I do think the question of Santa is being raised more and more.
In our house, we aren’t big on Santa. I grew up with Santa. I don’t remember it being horrifying when I found out Santa wasn’t real. Actually, I don’t remember learning Santa was my parents, I just knew and then went along with it because it was what Christmas was. I don’t recall having conversations with friends about Santa not being real. And I don’t remember it not inspiring trust in my parents telling me things.
But my husband and I made a choice when we had our first child and the choice we made was to leave Santa out of our family celebration. For those who have Santa come to visit, HAVE FUN! I mean that with all my heart. Our choice is not your choice and our choice is not the best choice for every family.
Santa is, in and of himself, not a bad guy. We as a society have, however, turned Santa into many things that I find go against the primary reason why I want to celebrate Christmas. Some parents choose to try to reframe Santa into a sort of “messiah” figure who brings us gifts we don’t deserve and they point to the joy of being able to give and recieve. Perhaps I am too lazy as a parent but this seems like too much work to me so I stick with Jesus. I have no interest in trying to change all the perceptions of Santa Claus that the world and their peers throw at them. I have no desire to add one more stress into celebrating Christmas, over the “is Santa really you and daddy” question that has to be dealt with.
So we just shrug our shoulders and say for some families having Santa come and visit is an important part of their Christmas celebration. It is just not part of our families tradition. That doesn’t mean that they are wrong or that you should try to tell them Santa isn’t real, it just means different families do different things at Christmas.
We are big on not letting the girls ask for things at Christmas. That is our one hard and fast rule and the hardest thing about Santa (and our very highly consumerist society) is that most people (sorry Dad!) can’t understand what is wrong with letting our children make a wish list and then having the joy of seeing those items magically appear under the tree. I believe very strongly that Christmas is about grace. It is about appreciating the people in our lives, seen and unseen. When I let myself or my children make demands on what grace (or gifts) are going to look like, well, it seems counterintuitive to me.
Jesus didn’t ask what I really, really wanted when he was born in Bethlehem. He never asked me if I wanted peace or hope or joy or love. He never asked if I wanted forgivenness. He never (to date) asked if I wanted to be called into a life of service and devotion to him and his church. He gave me these gifts and I through my responses accepted them. With them, I have learned there is a great cost. It would be much, much easier some days to give him back forgiveness and to be happy in my sin. But that is not the gift I was given. The gift I was given, which I accepted, causes me to be uncomfortable with my sin. It is much harder than I ever would have anticipated to appreciate these gifts and I am not sure some days if I knew what they really were going to demand if I would ask for them.
But I digress. Back to Santa.
There is grace in asking and getting what you want. Maybe. But I see more greed in this than grace. It makes Christmas about me, about what I want, what I think I need, and it gives us permission to not be gracious receivers. Because come on, if you were asked what you wanted and then you turn around on Christmas morning and the person who you told very clearly what you wanted gave you something the exact opposite of it, how much honest to goodness graciousness do most of us have in our hearts? And our children have less than us.
As a person of faith and especially as someone whose life is dedicated to the Gospel, I cannot promote or teach my children that if they are good they will receive good things in celebrating Jesus’ birth but if they are naughty they don’t deserve anything. Or they deserve terrible things. I am a sinner who receives gifts of grace I could never possibly earn daily. And Jesus never, ever judges us by our worthiness but offers us grace while we are yet sinners.
I cannot teach my children that someone who very unfairly distributes gifts is real. After all they are very much aware that the bully on the playground got everything on her Christmas list from Santa while another child got only items that are small and not very expensive. Our children are just pretty savvy about this. And if Santa is real, then why is he so unfair? Jesus gives the same measure and the same gifts to all of us, poor and wealthy alike.
Instead of focusing on Santa, we focus on being gracious receivers. We focus on taking our time to appreciate and enjoy each gift we are given and the person who gave it. We spend more time thinking about the gifts we will give and less focused on what we will get.
Oh Christmas morning is exciting for us! There is joy in our house and stockings in the tradition of St. Nicholas are handed around. But before anything is opened or presents are torn into, we gather in the kitchen to bake Jesus’ birthday cake and to prepare our birthday breakfast. While the cake bakes we open stockings and everyone laughs and shares the silly gifts they have. We sing, we eat, we celebrate. We talk about what we have given Jesus for his birthday. We bask in the glow of love, celebrating not a creepy man in a red suit who breaks in after dark with gifts that will determine if we were naughty or nice, but a Savior who gives what will truly sustain and last.
Is it Christmas without Santa Claus?
I would say even moreso. Never once on Christmas morning has anyone in our house wondered if they were less loved, less appreciated, less valued because Santa didn’t really come down our chimney. In fact, in those wonderful morning hours of December 25th, Santa doesn’t come up at all and Christmas, the essence of Christmas, is not lacking without him.