Dear Sister Sunday,
My Protestant sister-in-law has gotten me involved in an on-line discussion about Santa Claus. She says telling the kids about an imaginary man who brings presents at Christmas sets them up to believe that Jesus is also imaginary. I love all the Santa traditions from my childhood and I’ve delighted in sharing them.
But, now I’m wondering. My faith is very important to me, and I don’t want to mess this up with my kids. What do you think?
If Loving Santa is Wrong, Do I Want to Be Right?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus, the King of the Universe, and the Savior of the World, chose not to go it alone in his earthly ministry. Working with the disciples had to be like cleaning or cooking with children; it would have been so much faster and easier just to do it himself. He could have, for example, enjoyed his time on the mountain with Moses and Elijah without having to deal with Peter’s yammering about settling down there in tents.
God enlists humankind in the divine mission.
But, for some reason beyond our understanding, God desires the company of humans. And, more than that, God desires our help, our cooperation in the work of salvation. Think back to the words of the Eucharist Prayer. What we place on the altar for the consecration are gifts that “God has given and human hands have made.” God makes wheat; we turn it into bread. God makes grapes; we turn them into wine.
Face it. God loves us and chooses — Emmanuel! — to dwell with us.
You can find more examples of the ways in which God enlists humankind in the divine mission. It’s not because God couldn’t do it alone, indeed, couldn’t accomplish every divine purpose in an instant. It’s because God is patient — like you with a toddler and a room to straighten — and wants to bring us along to be fully-grown, mature sons and daughters of God. We aren’t meant to be pets or mascots, but sharers in the kingdom.
Santa Claus is another name for one of those helpers, Saint Nicholas, who is not an imaginary creature, but a 4th century bishop of Myra. Myra is a real city in a real country (modern day Turkey). I urge all Catholic parents to learn his story and share it with their children.
As to why Santa Claus comes on Christmas Eve and not on the saint’s feast day, December 6th? Well, as I understand it, Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, does come on his feast day (at least, to our house, and, I hope, to yours). When he comes again on the 24th, he comes as a secret helper. He would never take the limelight on a day that belongs to Christ alone, a day when, at midnight, animals speak and wonders fill the air.
When the day comes that kids figure out it’s mom and dad doing the Santa Claus work of assembling the bikes under the tree, then it’s time for them to understand just how wide is the family of Christ’ helpers – saints, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, kids – all throughout time and space, among the living and the dead. Moreover, it’s time for them to join the helpers, taking their turn with younger siblings and cousins in making God’s mercy known at Christmas.
May the days of Christmas be blessed at your house,