A quick Google search shows I’m not the only one who is somewhat freaked out by Santa Claus. One of my favourites:
This kid knows there’s something wrong with this situation. I’ve never actually met Santa Claus, so I haven’t shared in the terror this child experienced. I mean, look at the size of that scream! I don’t think her mouth could open any wider. And the left hand is cocked, ready to slam that candy cane into his hawkish nose. She’s holding onto the beard for balance as she leans back to throw her entire weight behind the blow–and ensure he doesn’t move to miss her sucker punch. But I’ve never met Santa. I’m no expert on such terrifying encounters.
Like I said, we didn’t grow up with Santa. One time, when I was nine or ten, we sat out cookies on Christmas Eve. We picked all thumbprint cookies because those are my father’s favourite, and we knew who was stuffing our stockings. I talked with my dad about this recently, after reading an interesting post by Mark Driscoll on the subject of “redeeming” Santa. We were on our annual mall visit where we watch people shop like maniacs, stroll arm in arm to the tune of carols and go through my wish-list-stores.* I asked how they managed to just keep us not oblivious but rather impervious to Santa Claus.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged as I gingerly ran my fingers over a quiche dish, white with fluted edges, “I guess, we just didn’t talk about him, and got lucky that you kids never asked much.”
Santa Claus makes me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. This Elf on the Shelf phenomenon also freaks me out as well. I’m sure it’s great for parents to have a reason to encourage good behaviour– because Santa’s helper is watching! But that completely distorts the reason we are called to be obedient. Do I obey my parents as a child, my husband as a wife, my God as an adult because someone is standing over me watching? Is God an eternal cosmic police officer? No. But somehow, I think that’s what is conveyed through the seemingly innocent “Elf” concept.
But coming back to Santa Claus and my bigger struggle….the best way to illustrate this is to tell you two different stories. The first comes from a family that I nannied for several years ago. To begin, you should know that this family was sweet and wonderful. They gave me a huge Christmas bonus which I’ve never before (or since) experienced. They offered a room to me on snowy nights. But as Christmas drew close that year, the pile of presents seemed to double each time I came to play. This little girl (and her infant brother) received more presents that one year than I think I’ve gotten in my entire 23 years. It took her two days to open them all because she got bored on Christmas. Two days. And most of them came from Santa.
The other story is from last year. A family of seven children who didn’t get many presents, whose house Santa Claus must have skipped, and yet they were happier. They delighted in each other’s gifts as much as in their own because they were happy to watch their siblings be happy. They gave me a gift, a set of three little journals that were small enough to fit in my purse and a pair of pajama pants. I gave them a story. A short novel that a year later I am still writing for them. When I saw them this week, they came running out to my car in snow, with nothing on their feet and hardly any clothes on as they were still in pajamas. They tackled me and one little girl hugged the next section of this novel and ran with extreme joy to tell her mother the good news–“my part of the story has arrived!” And this family, these children teach me–a seminary student-–about Jesus. Seriously. I’ve been corrected before by an eight year old.
While my life may revolve around theology and knowledge, academia and learning, that isn’t the point here. I want you to see the joy in the lives of the children who knew that Christmas was about God. Christmas is about Jesus Christ and how he came to save us. It’s about gifts, because God gifted himself in the person of Jesus. It’s about lights because Jesus is the light of the world by which all things are illuminated and the darkness is forced to flee. It’s about colours and decorations because God is creative and wants us to share in that. It’s about good food because God is a hedonist who created all things to be enjoyed. It’s about family and friends because Abba is our Good Father, and because family is a small way in which we experience the kind of love he extends to us**.
I want you to see that Santa Claus is based on a man who gave money to three poor women so they might have dowries and escape lives of prostitution. Saint Nicholas is a man we are supposed to emulate. We are to give. We are not to demand. Because God gave. That’s why Nicholas gave to the women. Because Jesus rescued us from lives of prostitution to sin and wed us to himself in the church. Nicholas knew that and so he chose to follow it. He chose to obey the example of Christ. Not to earn a reward. But because he as so filled with joy by the goodness of the Godhead that he wanted to give that to someone else.
This is a long enough post. But what I want you to see is that Santa Claus doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m a crazy Baptist who thinks it’s “Satan” misspelled. He doesn’t make me uncomfortable because I’m afraid of deceiving children (though that does weird me out). He doesn’t make me uncomfortable primarily because of materialism.
He makes me uncomfortable because we become focused around the wrong things. And somehow, he takes away from remembering that Jesus, Jesus, is the one who made this season possible. Who brings peace, and joy and love and hope. That’s something worth celebrating. Not new socks, iPads or an Ikea gift card.
The hope of Jesus our Messiah, our kinsman redeemer, our great and beautiful Boaz, our rescuer, and our greatest hope is something worth celebrating.
*Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, Crate and Barrel
**Or rather, it is a place where we are meant to experience that love. Dysfunctional families distort that.