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.