The other night I saw Santa. He seemed so real that it took me rushing straight back to my childhood anxiety of wondering, usually at the eleventh hour, if I had been good enough during the year for a visit. Seriously, when he looked at me with those age-old, knowing eyes, I squirmed. Ummmmmm…….Hello……my childhood was a multitude of decades ago, and I have long since crossed over from believe to make-believe. Yet here I was…squirming and doubting my behavior for the past year under his scrutiny. I realized how deeply the myth had penetrated.
There is a debate out there with many parents on whether or not to do Santa, especially Christians who want to keep the true meaning of this day, the birth of our Savior, in proper focus. I have to humbly confess that I totally did Santa to EPIC elaborate proportions with my own children and loved every minute of the season. I threw in a few elves, footprints in the fire place, half eaten cookies and empty glasses of milk, and reindeer noises on the roof for good measure. I re-discovered my own childhood innocence through their eyes. It renewed my heart in magical whimsical ways that nothing else had done. I told myself that it was for them, but now I can see it was really for me. I never gave a single thought to some of questions that are now being pondered. Did I purposely lie to our children when we wanted to teach them the value of integrity? Did I thrust them into the laps of perfect strangers to tell their names and perhaps where they live for a Christmas delivery, when we tried to teach them to be careful with people they didn’t know? Did I tell them that someone would be sneaking around our house in the middle of the night and that was okay with us?! Did I encourage their desire for wanting more by continually asking them to write letters and make lists of their desires when we should have been trying to teach them that it is more blessed to give than to receive? Did I bribe their behavior with the advent of gifts when we tried to teach the intrinsic value of behaving well? And most importantly, did I forget to make the manger the most important part? I have to answer yes to all of the above. I never paused to consider the confusing messages that I was sending to my precious littles.
So, I did a little research to discover and ruminate. There once was a real man, named Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century. He was an only child raised as a Christian by his wealthy parents. They died of the plague when he was quite young, leaving Nicholas an inheritance. He kept the stories of Jesus close to his heart and practiced the words he had learned by selling his belongings and giving to the poor.
“Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. “~ Matthew 19:21
He gave secretly in the cloak of darkness to not receive credit for his good deeds.
“But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”~ Matthew 6:3
There were stories of leaving money in stockings for those in need.
“Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.”~ Timothy 6:18
He stood firm on his faith in the face of prison and possibly death.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
~ Matthew 10:32-33
He was one of many bishops chosen by Constantine to appear at the First Council of Nicaea to define the nature of Christianity. He gave of himself and his provision because of the greatest gift of all – the baby in the manger. So the myth of Santa began….from Nicholas… a giver of gifts…filling up stockings…delivering late at night without being seen. We have kept the tradition of the WHO Santa is and embellished
a bit a lot, but somewhere along the way, we forgot the part about WHY he did these things – to live out and honor the words of Jesus about giving, serving, and helping others.
There is no judgement here for those who choose either path. This is purely self reflection and what I feel is right for me. However, if I could have a do-over, I would start with the manger – the MOST IMPORTANT part. Then I would tell my children about Nicholas, the man, and how stories about him created the myth of Santa. I would tell them right away that Santa Claus is not real, but the spirit of giving is very real. I would tell them that it is a way that we remember and emulate a very real man who lived and loved God. I would teach them that the spirit of Christmas is outgoing, not incoming.
I think that I cling to these stories of Santa because my heart tells me that is how we should be. We should have faith in believing in something we cannot see. We should have faith in goodness and generosity. We should aim to be good and do good. But I would squarely place the focus back where my heart tells me it belongs….the manger. I would teach them to celebrate the birth of our Lord with these qualities that Nicholas showed to others, knowing that they sprang from the teachings of …God’s greatest gift to us.
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”
~ Luke 2: 10-12