Tuesday, December 21, 2010


1. Santa Claus: a benevolent figure of legend, associated with Saint Nicholas, supposed to bring gifts to children on Christmas Eve

Do your children believe in Santa Claus?  For that matter, do you?  Today has been a nearly idyllic Christmas Break day.  The girls and I baked two batches of sugar cookies, decorated cookies, watched London's Royal Ballet's Nutcracker production and went to the library.  It was after 2 pm before I went upstairs to dress for the day.  Yes, I stayed in my pajamas nearly all day.  To be quite honest, I would have stayed in them ALL day if not for the need to return DVDs to the library.

As I soaked in a warm bath this afternoon, I was thinking about the magic in our day and in the season.  Maybe baking cookies doesn't sound magical to you, but it felt magical.  K & B helped roll dough, cut cookies and decorate them.  In classic B fashion, she came up with new and inventive shapes for the cookies that went far beyond the cookie cutters available.  A day with few sibling altercations and cookie making to boot is a success in my book.  And it's all the more amazing to have a peaceful day like this in the midst of Christmas craziness, when kids are hyper, but it's too cold to play outside or they are feeling the pent up anticipation of the season, but have a few more days to wait.  So as we wait, we plan.

K is so excited about Santa coming, she can hardly stand it.  She has the perfect trio of cookies planned for his Christmas Eve consumption and she has decided to solve the familial debate of whether the big guy prefers Coke or Pepsi by leaving one of each.  Yesterday, as the four of us were walking in to Target, a man in tan coveralls with a striking white beard said, "Ho, Ho, Ho!" as he passed us.  B whispered in my ear, "I think he's the real Santa.  He just has on different clothes."  A & B are 10 and 9 this year, so it's hard to believe they aren't on to the whole Santa thing.  But if they're on to it, they aren't saying so.  Instead, they are encouraging K's excitement and hanging on to a bit of their own.  They never come right out and ask me whether Santa is real.  And if they did ask, I wouldn't answer in the negative.

I know a lot of families, especially those from evangelical Christian backgrounds, don't encourage or allow their children to believe in Santa Claus.  And while I can understand the desire to shift the focus of Christmas away from Santa to Christ, I frankly think Santa Claus is the least of our problems in getting our children to understand Christmas as something other than the over-commercialized excuse for excessive consumption that it has become.  Santa does, in fact, bring something very important to the experience of Christmas: mystery.

As a culture, we're not big fans of mystery.  We want the answers to all of our questions and we want them now.  Some turn to science for the answers, others to the Bible.  I think both solutions are likely to land you slightly off course.  Because I think this life is supposed to contain mystery and the Bible isn't meant to be a life manual, but a tuning fork for our hearts.  There are things we will never understand - some horrific, some wonderful, some beautiful.  And this is how it should be.  That's why it's called faith, after all.

Advent itself is filled with mystery.  Not just the mystery of Christ's birth, but the unfathomable things promised upon his return: my mind can barely comprehend the promises of peace, the absence of pain and suffering.  But I long for these things.  And I long to see the mystery of those promises become reality.

Do I think allowing my children to believe in Santa Claus quickens the coming of God's kingdom?  No.  But I do think it encourages them to believe.  It encourages them to keep their minds and hearts open to the mysterious workings of the Lord that are beyond the realm of our comprehension.  I don't want them to ever think they have God all figured out.  Because that would mean they have made him far too small and themselves far too big.

I'm sure my feelings about this are shaped by my family.  If you ask my mother whether Santa Claus is real, she would tell you, "Santa Claus is the spirit of giving and as long as you believe in giving to others, Santa exists."  (Her children are 38 and 35, so if that's her answer now, you can bet it's always going to be her answer.)  A friend was telling me not long ago that she and her husband didn't do Santa with her first two children.  But when her two younger children were born, her older children asked her to please let them believe in Santa.  I love this story because for me it shows the desire of a child's heart to see the mystery and magic of Christmas.  Because who can ever fully understand Christmas?  Who can really comprehend a Father loving sinful mankind enough to send his Son to this painful world to die a painful death?  Who can comprehend the Son's willingness to come?  If that's not mystery, I don't know what is.  

And while Santa Claus isn't a direct descendant of the original Christmas story, in our family he has a part to play.  As long as Santa keeps my children joyfully focused on the mysteries of the season, he is welcome in my home.


The Mom said...

I love this post...and of course, I see myself in here! So thankfully, someone will learn from all that I had to unlearn. Just listen to the voice within and follow the joy..you will end up at the manger, no matter what!

Natalie said...

I love all of your posts, but especially this one. I am a middle child. I remember that my older sister and I got to "believe" in Santa longer than usually because of our little brother. It WAS so special to believe with him rather than it just ending because I was ten.

I don't have anything to say about the true meaning of Christmas. But, I did enjoy this post. Thank you for always giving me another perspective. Often one that I haven't pondered already.

RBM said...

I guess I am one of those evangelical Christians who won’t encourage my theoretical future children to believe in Santa, though I don’t think I will discourage or not allow them to. And I would never want my children to be the ones ruining someone else’s children’s beliefs. I one hundred percent agree with your thoughts about the mystery of our faith, but especially at Christmas, I just feel strongly that I want to focus on the mystery of Christ’s birth as opposed to Santa. I want my family to give to each other because God gave us the greatest gift. We had a discussion in Sunday School about Santa where someone else brought up another interesting point about this debate. If we ask our children to believe in a mythical Santa figure and then they “find out” he isn’t real, but then we also ask them to believe in a mysterious Christ who we assert is real though we can never touch or feel him either, aren’t we sending a conflicting message there? I had actually never thought about it that way before, definitely food for thought there.

I do respect other parents’ rights to encourage Santa, and I think it probably depends on how you talk about and “use” Santa in your home. I have heard other parents describe how they use Santa as a behavioral tool, i.e. if you aren’t “good” you won’t get any presents, if you touch those presents one more time before Christmas they will disappear, etc., and I find this much more disturbing that how you describe welcoming Santa in your home. I also find the elf on a shelf trend very disturbing. Overall though I appreciate your post, as it makes me reflect on my own feelings and thoughts about Santa and as always your deep faith shines through.

EJN said...

Loved the post, "magical" indeed. The wonder of life is something sweet to be preserved. My Mom always told Santa was Jesus' Helper, theoligically sound - not so much; magical and windsome - absolutely.
Christmas with little ones in the house is so much fun, enjoy the wonder.
Blessings and REJOICE!

Chris and Tiana said...

I love this. It's a totally new way of thinking about Santa, and I'm glad your kids believe in Santa. Poor little Clara Beth, however, has already gotten to the bottom of that mystery. We had never planned to make Santa a huge part of our Christmas, but we also never intended to tell our 3-year old that Santa wasn't real. But last year she started asking way too many questions, and in true Clara Beth fashion, she wasn't satisfied with my answer of "It must be magic." So we finally had to just spill the beans and tell her that Santa is pretend, but I keep thinking maybe I should tell her the story of St. Nicholas so maybe she'll understand the meaning of Santa a little better. She's a funny kid. Totally convinced that mermaids live in the bottom of the ocean and unicorns sleep under her bed, but she wasn't buying the Santa Claus idea.

As always, I love the way your mind works. I'll have to have a talk with Clara about all this...

WordGirl said...

RBM - I especially love your points. We definitely don't use Santa to coerce our children and I've even told them when they talk about lumps of coal that I don't think Santa is vindictive. As for how this will impact their long-term beliefs, I think that partly hinges on whether they do, in fact, feel tricked. I think if I do a good enough job of articulating to them why I think it's important to celebrate giving, mystery, etc. then it won't necessarily be a roadblock to them later in their faith lives.

Tiana - If I had a child who really quizzed me on it, I would never have pushed it. But my girls have enjoyed Santa so much. I think K has been more into it than her sisters, but it's been so sweet this year to hear them answer her questions about how Santa gets it all done. (When K says she's going to sleep on the sofa so that she can see him, B sang, "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake".)