Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Santa Claus

Warning: this post contains the opinions of the writer. You may or may not agree with them. Read at your own risk.

It’s that time of year again. Advent is upon us. I LOVE the whole Christmas season. I love looking at lights and decorating the tree and opening presents and drinking cider and egg nog. I also love remembering God’s wondrous gift to us and singing songs of praise and doing my Advent Bible study. I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (the book and the original cartoon version, NOT the Jim Carrey movie) and the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I love trying to teach Sarah about Jesus and the true meaning of this wonderful holiday season.

I also love Santa Claus. There, I said it. I love Santa Claus! I think he’s fun. This time of year, a lot of blogs as well as church literature start spewing all the evils of commercialism and consumerism at Christmastime (I agree completely with that; those things are wrong). But poor Santa gets caught right in the middle of it as a symbol of greed and a distraction from what Christmas is all about.

If you find that Santa does inspire greed in you and that he indeed takes your focus from all that is holy and sacred about Christmas, by all means ignore him. Shun him. But please leave me alone to enjoy my Santa fun. I may indeed be less devout than you, but not necessarily because I like Santa and you don’t.

Let's face it; the overemphasis on commercialism at Christmas is a relatively recent trend. People didn't used to have fistfights and literally trample people to death over "stuff" in the stores. Since Santa has been around for quite a long time now, I don't think it's fair to blame him for all these recent atrocities.

When I was still teaching, one of the children had a mother who was very much anti-Santa. And she was eager to persuade the rest of us to her viewpoint as well. I remember she had one little boy in tears, telling him he needed to choose between Jesus and Santa Claus, because he couldn’t have both. And the poor little boy was miserable, because he did love Jesus, but he also really thought Santa was a lot of fun.

I do have my reasons for my Santa affections. :) First of all, I grew up with him. My mom is another big fan of the jolly old elf, so Santa was always a part of our Christmas traditions (we did the tooth fairy and Halloween too. Heathens all the way round, I know). It was exciting to wake up on Christmas morning and run to see what Santa had brought. I don’t even remember when I learned the “truth” about Santa, that he wasn’t really real. On some level, I think children always know or at least suspect that it’s all a giant game of make-believe. But what child doesn’t love to pretend? And there was never some big dramatic moment when I realized I’d been “lied” to.

And it was fun as a child to notice that the TV that Santa brought was from the same factory where my dad worked. Or that the note he left was on the same kind of paper that my mom used in the kitchen. I felt smart and smug as I observed these little “slips.” And it was really fun the year that roles reversed slightly. I noticed that my mom, brother, and I all had stockings and gifts from Santa, but my dad did not. This was horribly unfair. So I gathered up some candy I had and left it with a note from “Santa” (again on Mom’s paper) apologizing for having neglected him for so many years. And even though looking back on it, it was probably old Halloween candy full of artificial color that Dad couldn’t even eat, I was SO proud of myself for being his “Santa.”

I still think Santa is good, clean fun for kids. Today, many children are overbooked, overstimulated, stressed out, and strung out. They have very little time just to be kids. Santa Claus is a small way to allow them something fun and a chance to experience some childlike wonder.

But as an adult, my reasons for appreciating Santa have deepened a bit. We all give presents at Christmas. We give gifts to one another because God gave the ultimate gift to us. We show love and kindness to one another because of the love and kindness God has shown us. And Santa absolutely embodies that spirit of giving and kindness. He is a tangible example of generosity.

There are several versions of the legend of Santa Claus. I won’t even attempt to relate them all. I will simply tell my favorite one, which comes from a book I bought in college. Nicholas was a toy maker living in Amsterdam. His sales picked up around Christmas, of course, as parents bought presents for their children. But he noticed that the poor young orphans of the city got no presents at all. Because Nicholas was a compassionate man, this disturbed him. He made toys for all the orphans of the city and left them in secret, along with food and candy. The orphans were of course thrilled, and giving made Nicholas happy too. He continued to leave his secret presents each year, and as time went on he not only gave gift to the orphans and the impoverished but to all of the children of the city. And eventually he was giving gifts to all the children of the world, simply for the enjoyment it gave him. Is that not a perfect illustration of Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to given than to receive”?

And when the focus on Santa takes a backseat to the focus on Jesus, he CAN be a delightful addition to the holiday celebrations. And most children do know the difference between the fun of Santa and the sacredness of Jesus. I don’t remember ever being confused or uncertain as to what the real meaning behind Christmas is. A book I read once demonstrates it perfectly. A small child was asked who was more important, Jesus or Santa. The child was right in the middle of enjoying Santa’s gifts at that particular moment, but she still responded with eloquence: “Jesus. Santa comes only at Christmas. Jesus came at Christmas too, but He stays with us all the time, in our hearts. Plus, Santa only brings presents if we’ve been good. Jesus loves us all the time, even if we forget to be good.” And one of the adults present in the story responded with, "Best sermon I've heard in a long time!" Children know what is real and what isn't, and what is important and what isn't.

Also, there are many traditions at Christmas that originally came from pagan practices. Yet no one protests Christmas trees and such. And no one complains at Easter when children dye eggs (not even the aforementioned mother who was trying to proselytize my kindergarten students against Santa!). So I honestly don't see why Santa has to be singled out for ridicule and revile.

So there it is, my Santa rant. You don’t have to celebrate or acknowledge Santa at all if you don’t wish to. It isn’t at all important, and I would not want to be guilty of talking someone into a practice they weren't comfortable with, or simply just didn't care about. I simply grow weary of all the “anti-Santa” railing and thought I’d offer the opposite perspective. And I wish you a very merry Christmas, with or without the jolly old elf!


Tana said...

couldn't have said it better myself...and i bet your dad positively loved the candy he couldn't eat.

karen said...

Well, one hopes so anyway. :-p I also have to hope that it is truly the thought that counts, because looking back on it the execution was lousy! :-p

Guest of said...

Loved this post Karen! I don't really remember "believing" in Santa but I am also pro-Santa. :)

--Laura Ong

karen said...

Thanks, Laura! I'm glad you dropped by! :)

Tara said...

Is Santa really an elf? Just wondering...I wasn't raised to believe in Santa but I've never noticed anyone call him an elf before.

I remember the one and only year my dad made an attempt to be Santa. He signed our gifts "love, Santa" but even as little kids we recognized his handwriting. :-) Sorry dad! It was a nice try though. :-)

karen said...

Lol. Apparently you never grew up reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas", Tara! ;) It calls Santa a "a jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself." It's worth reading if you haven't. It's been around since 1822!

Your poor dad. I'm sorry his attempt at Santa didn't work so well! Mine struggled with being the Tooth Fairy--he always woke me up! :)

Tara said...

Aha! Makes sense now...and nope, I've never read that story. :-) Thanks for filling me in. :-)

My mom was one of those really sensitive kids who was devastated when she found out Santa wasn't real. It must've been pretty hard on her because that was her initial reason for not teaching us Santa was real.

Jess said...

this was AWESOME!!! lucy believed in santa until yesterday when hannajean told her that he wasn't real.


hannajean needs to be reading your blog...

love you-


karen said...

Apparently, Hannajean isn't quite the opportunist my brother was. ;) When he figured out Santa wasn't real, he kept his mouth shut for a long time, because he didn't want to stop receiving gifts from Santa! ;)

My response in the classroom to children telling each other the truth has always been, "Well, I still believe in Santa, and he still visits my house!" That usually quiets everyone! ;)

Tana said...

Haha. I'm with Dave on this one. Why admit unbelief when belief brings presents?

Heather said...

I feel the same way!!! Only I've never been able to put it into words. Well said!! :) So what do you do when a friends son says to your son, Santa's not real... ? That's your opinion? :) Anyway, thank you for a good read! :-D

karen said...

Heather, I always just say, "Well, I still believe in Santa Claus, and he still comes to my house!" Most kids don't know what to say to that, and it ends the conversation pretty quickly!