I was a skeptical child. At a very young age, I figured out that the gifts Santa supposedly brought were really from my parents. Being INTJ (even then), I couldn’t bear the thought that this lie was being disseminated in my home, so I showed my little sister the presents in the bottom of our parents’ closet. Yes, I did that. And no, I don’t think she’s ever forgiven me.
In spite of all that, when I had children of my own, I went with the program and introduced them to the magic of Santa Claus. We left milk and cookies on Christmas Eve and tracked the sleigh on NORAD, and on Christmas morning, there beneath the tree would be a delightful assortment of colorful toys, supposedly delivered sometime during the night by a fat jovial man in a red velvet suit.
I don’t know why I, an unbeliever, felt compelled to encouraged my children to believe in Santa Claus. Everyone else was on Team Santa, so I figured I should be too. It’s one bandwagon I kind of wish I had never gotten on.
Eventually Marie and James figured it out, as children always do, although Joe, the youngest, continued to believe. It’s a rite of passage, coming to the gradual realization that time and space would not allow one man, no matter how lively and quick, to deliver toys to every child in the world in the course of one night. And what about kids in Africa, and kids whose families don’t celebrate Christmas, and houses that don’t have chimneys, and apartment buildings? The whole story kind of falls apart, even though some kids keep on pretending to believe long after they’ve figured it out, because they’re afraid Santa won’t bring them anything.
By the time Joe was eight or so, we were going through a rough time financially, and I began to resent the fact that this imaginary man was going to get credit for buying the presents, when it was really me and my husband. As a growing Christian, I had also come to the realization that Santa, that right jolly old elf, had hijacked Christmas in his flying sleigh. What are we teaching our kids when we tell them that a stranger breaking into your house in the middle of the night to bring you presents has anything to do with celebrating the birth of our our Savior? Am I being too INTJ here?
If Joe hadn’t figured out by now that Santa wasn’t real, it was high time he understood.
“Joe, I have something to tell you. You know the presents Santa brings on Christmas morning? Those are really from me and dad. I think you should know that.”
Joe’s big brown eyes filled with tears as he looked at me and sobbed, “I didn’t want to know that!!!”
That was not the response I expected, but I felt very strongly that Santa, who is after all a myth, was not going to continue to get credit for the toys and gifts that I bought with my hard-earned money. “I’m sorry Joe. Dad and I give you presents because we love you,” I tried to reason with him. But he really didn’t want to talk about it, and by the following week he more or less “unknew” what I had told him, carrying on as if nothing had happened.
Of course, Joe eventually came to terms with Santa’s non-existence, and bears no permanent scars from his disillusionment. But looking back, I kind of regret ever letting Santa in the door. Once Santa becomes a part of Christmas, it’s really hard to keep him from taking over. Jesus’ birth becomes an afterthought. The nativity is crowded out by a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Belief in Santa creates a kind of upside down theology in which children won’t get presents unless they believe and behave.
Also, Santa inspired the song with the worst theology ever, “Here Comes Santa Claus”:
Here comes Santa Claus,
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane,
He’ll come around when chimes ring out,
It’s Christmas time again.
Peace on earth will come to all,
If we just follow the light,
So let’s give thanks to the Lord above
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.
Please don’t think me a Scrooge because I’m no longer on Team Santa. But I don’t need to believe in a fat man in a red velvet suit spending my money and getting all the credit to appreciate the wonder of Christmas. The Virgin Birth and God Incarnate in a little baby and angels singing Glory to the Lord is plenty enough wonder and magic for me.
If you grew up in the sixties, you might remember this filmstrip produced by Bell Telephone that has both the The Night Before Christmas and the Nativity Story. They used to show it at our elementary school back in the day. (I think the previous sentences had about ten anachronisms.)
Do you think Santa is an important part of Christmas? Am I just a big old Scrooge? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!