To continue my week of Christmas blog reruns, here’s my Christmas rant from last year:
As regular and reliable as over-the-top commercialism and rampant credit card debit, with the Christmas season come the annual anti-Santa rants from the farther fringes of Christianity — including plenty of Seventh-day Adventists, some in my home church. Some, even, friends of mine.
While I respect everyone’s right to believe what they want, I don’t get the anti-Santa sentiment and never have. Mind you, I missed the adult Sabbath School discussion a few weeks ago where a member apparently told the others in all seriousness that Santa, along with the Easter Bunny, was one of Satan’s chief minions, drawing people into the kingdom of darkness. It’s probably not fair either to attack or to satirize someone’s position if you didn’t hear it first hand, but there are plenty of anti-Santa Christians out there to debate with, if you enjoy those kind of debates. Me, I’m just left shaking my head and wondering, “Do these people realize that Santa is, um … a fictional character? Not an actually Prince of Semi-Darkness dressed in fur-trimmed red suit, but … a character from children’s stories, a myth of popular culture on the level of Mickey Mouse or Superman?”
I’ve been exposed to anti-Santa rants my whole life, and I’ve still never heard a single strong argument as to why using the figure or image of Santa is so inherently evil. Admittedly, not everyone stoops to the level of “if you scramble the letters, SANTA spells SATAN” (my answer: “I must go home and worship Max, for he is my DOG”), but I’ve yet to hear anyone present a cogent reason why Santa is dangerous to the Christian faith.
Of course, I don’t get the opposite view either — parents who tie themselves in knots to convince their children that Santa is real, so the little ones won’t lose “the magic of Christmas.” I don’t understand that at all — I mean, if you’re going to put that much effort and energy into getting your children to believe something, shouldn’t it be something that you, yourself, personally believe to be true?
I was raised with Santa as a benevolent fictional character — a figure who appeared in “The Night Before Christmas” and on various Christmas iconography, but was not given any actual credit for the gifts which, it was perfectly clear, came from loved ones (I always felt my parents didn’t want some fat guy in a red suit getting credit for those presents they’d shopped and paid for, and I don’t blame them). “Believing” in Santa was a bit of a joke in my house growing up, as it has been with our kids — just as the tooth fairy is an agreed-upon fiction when a tooth falls out.
I remember asking my grandmother at an early age if Santa was real. I remember this well because it’s one of the few lucid conversations I had with my Nanny Morgan before her stroke, and since that happened when I was seven, I know I was younger than that. As I said, my parents didn’t encourage “belief in Santa” as an actual fact, but I had obviously encountered other children who thought Santa was real, so I figured I’d better run it by Nanny.
I still remember her telling me, “Santa is a lovely story — he’s not a real person, but he represents the spirit of love and giving at this time of year.”
That was perfectly acceptable to me, and I imagine it should be for most children long before they’re seven. Children do understand stories, and fictional characters, and enjoy imaginative play. Why shouldn’t that include a benevolent character, based on an early Christian saint (the original St. Nicholas story is well explained for Christian kids in the Veggie Tales DVD “Saint Nicholas”), who loves to give toys to children?
I guess the real problem is that some Christians see Christmas as a kind of Santa vs. Jesus showdown, with Santa detracting attention from Jesus’ birthday. Certainly we should draw people’s attention to Jesus whenever possible, and Christmas (while not the actual birthdate of Jesus, as I’m sure everyone is well aware) is a good opportunity to do so — in fact, one of the best opportunities we get all year. It’s a holiday with many aspects, some sacred and some secular, and whenever we get a chance — through music and art and worship and well-told stories — to draw attention to the sacred aspects, we should do so. But that doesn’t mean the secular aspects need to be banished, or that they necessarily detract from the sacred ones. They can, in fact, complement them.
The thing about Santa is that, far from being one of Satan’s minions, he’s sort of a watered-down God-figure — to the extent that we often hear warnings about the dangers of thinking God is just like a big Santa Claus. It’s a mistake, of course, to think that God is like Santa, but if you think that Santa is like God — all-knowing, all-seeing, rewarding the good, loving to give gifts, especially concerned with little children — then you’re starting to get it. Santa, like lots of other great figures from literature and popular culture (Superman, Aslan, Gandalf, Dumbledore …) is a little like God, in some ways, though not much like Him in others. Santa is one of the Powerful Good Guys, and the PGG’s exist in mythology and literature as glimpses of God, tiny human attempts to portay some aspect of a Divinity too big for our comprehension.
Of course, God knew God was too big for us to grasp in entirety, and so He packaged Himself small — very small, smaller than all our superheroes. The Baby in the manger is far, far more powerful and real than Santa will ever be, and Santa, like all of us and all our other heroes, must ultimately kneel at the manger, and at the cross.
But that makes Santa Jesus’ subject, not His enemy. I would argue that Santa, as a fictional character, is a loyal and faithful subject of the true God, in that in his best manifestations he points us towards kindness, generosity, laughter and joy. If Santa is used as a symbol of crass consumerism to urge us to spend, spend, spend — or if parents use him to inculcate a “belief” in “magic” that will later backfire when their children question all the truths their parents taught them, then yes, I have my issues with the jolly old elf. But if he is what my grandmother told me he was — a lovely story that embodies the spirit of giving and generosity we should all practise — then he will always have a place on my tree, and in my heart.