Santa has a problem
Well, tonight is the big night. According to the story that has taken hold of Christmas in western culture tonight is the night that Santa Claus makes his global journey dispensing gifts by the millions.
We Christians have always been uneasy with the old guy. Some parents tell the kids flat out not to buy into the story. Others go with the flow and do the Santa thing at home. Still others modify, reduce or de-emphasize the story while not abandoning it altogether. All are cognizant that their kids are often engulfed in Santa-culture that runs pretty deep.
So what should we do with Santa? We are all aware that Santa is not the important thing in the Christmas story; we all want our kids to know that. For some the question is open-and-shut. Just say no. If the kids have tension when they reveal this to their friends, so be it, they are “standing for truth.” Others are not so sure. We all have our own growing-up experiences with Santa and either want or don’t want our kids to have that depending on how we remember it.
I am not theologian enough to give you a “thus says the Lord” answer about Santa but I will say this – Santa has a problem, and frankly I am glad he does. To understand this problem, let’s take a peek into the old guy’s history.
It is generally accepted that the “historical” Santa was the Christian bishop St. Nicolas who lived back around 280 AD and was from what is now modern Turkey. Known for his generous giving spirit, one of gifts was money given to three poor young sisters as dowries so they could avoid the poor house or worse. In the earliest versions of the story he tossed some coins over the wall of their house anonymously in the night. But soon the story, and St. Nicolas, grew. The coins became bags of coins. Instead of going over the wall, they went down the chimney where, oddly enough, they fell into the girls stockings that were hung there to dry.
And the Santa story was off to the races. Tales of his exploits grew, to say nothing of his wisdom and power. With each retelling it got bigger, and so did he. Originally depicted as a short, skinny cleric he grew taller and fatter. He peaked in the mid 20th century as a portly, red-cheeked giant of a man in a red suit carrying a Coca-Cola, a job he latter subbed out to some polar bears.
And his powers grew too. Soon he knew if we’d been bad or good; almost omniscient. Then Hollywood got into the act. In movies and TV specials Santa was saving marriages, fending off evil toy manufacturers, finding parents for lonely children, altering weather patterns and defeating all sorts of evil plots. The peak probably came in 1964 when he defeated an interplanetary invasion in “Santa Claus conquers the Martians.” I mean, this guy was amazing.
But of late his reputation has taken something of a hit. By the mid 90s he was showing up in movies as something of a kindly bumbler needing kids, Mrs. Claus and elves on shelves to pull off the simple task of delivering toys to every home on the planet in one night. Just what is going on here? How did this all happen and why did he get so powerful only to start to bumble?
Deep within the human heart is a yearning for a powerful, wise, loving hero. We all know we need one. We all know something is wrong and it is beyond our power to fix it. And so we grasp Santa as a possible answer – and are disappointed. He is not up to the task. Come December 26th his chair at the mall is empty. If we fall ill in March, Santa is no help. When the financial crisis hits in June he is nowhere to be found. He is not there to comfort us in a family heartache in September. Saddened and bitter we start writing the old guy down to size or worse.
Many look to other heroes. Perhaps a political leader can be our hero? Or a celebrity. Or a religious leader. We invest in other humans our hope that they can solve these problems. But we are always disappointed. But if we can look past this disappointment we can find this is good news. You see, there really is a hero; really is an answer. Our real longing, though we may not articulate it or even realize it, is for a Savior. Jesus – “he saves” – has been there all along. He, and only He, is up to the task.
Do what you wish with the Santa story for your kids. But make sure they know that he, and we, are just trying in our own feeble ways to pattern our own lives of giving and caring after the only King and Lord who ever left His throne to be born in a stable.