I know, it’s not even close to Christmas yet (147 days!), so this post is quite unseasonal. But I spoke harshly of Santa Claus the other day and I wanted to set the record straight…
I compared the angry, bloodthirsty, incompetent, and punitive God that’s been perpetuated by the Western church to “Santa Claus on a bad day.” And, well… I like Santa Claus. I’m afraid that my sentiment gave him a bad name. So, first, I wanted to apologize. Sorry, Santa. I also wanted to take this opportunity to add some nuance here.
Alex and I don’t use Santa Claus as a parental weapon. Trust me, I’ve wanted SO badly to. But we don’t threaten Rory about being on the ‘naughty list’ (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been SO close to pulling that parental gun from its holster). She hears about the naughty list from the song and whatnot, but it’s not spoken of in our home.
Santa is a big deal in our home. Even right now, in July, the excitement is starting to build. But it’s interesting… We heard from a parent that Rory is the only kid at her school who believes in Santa. Yes, at age 5, she’s the youngest in her cohort. And her school is very small (50 kids). But still… It pains me to think that parents are so concerned about ‘not lying’ to their kids that they’ve withheld the magic of Santa from them just for rationality sake. Were they really so scarred from the Santa Claus thing to feel the need to shield their kids from it? I wonder…
Now, you probably think I do, but I don’t believe in Santa Claus literally and factually:) I DO, however, believe in him fictionally. To evoke an idea of the great writer Neil Gaiman, the fictionality of a thing doesn’t make it untrue.
“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.”
— Neil Gaiman
I don’t let Santa’s fictionality get in the way of me reflecting kindly on him and allowing my daughter to enjoy the magic around the story as deeply as I did (and still do, through her).
If you handle the narrative right, you can turn the narrative of Santa Claus from a reward/punishment parental weapon to a grace-centered way of seeing the world.
The definition of grace I’m going with here is a theological one that points to an undeserved and unconditional gift. Though I’m NOT comparing Santa to God (remember, I already apologized for that), grace is something that takes place to a different degree between humans. There’s one-way, unconditional, undeserved love and gift-giving going on all the time down here on Earth. These are the stories that make great movies and novels. Where someone who’s reached the end of themselves — just when you thought it was over for them — has undeservedly been granted love and rescue from another human.
What’s special to me about Santa Claus is grace. Santa as gift-giver and the warmth of a human heart that receives a gift (and, in turn, extends the gift-giving to others). As far as Rory knows, Santa leaves no one out. She hasn’t gotten too deep into inquiry about this (yet). She’s in a state of pure naive faith and joy about it. It’s such a lovely innocent thing to witness as she lights up when we talk about him. (And I’m thankful the non-believers at school are gentle with her about it — at least, as it seems.)
When she does get to the point where she starts doubting Santa and wondering why certain kids don’t get gifts, I look forward to sharing with her this perspective, written by Leslie Rush (which went viral a few years ago, for good reason)…
In our family, we have a special way of transitioning the kids from receiving from Santa, to becoming a Santa. This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and Christmas spirit.
When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready.
I take them out “for coffee” at the local wherever. We get a booth, order our drinks, and the following pronouncement is made:
“You sure have grown an awful lot this year. Not only are you taller, but I can see that your heart has grown, too. [ Point out 2–3 examples of empathetic behavior, consideration of people’s feelings, good deeds etc, the kid has done in the past year]. In fact, your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus.
“You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE.
“Tell me the best things about Santa. What does Santa get for all of his trouble?” [lead the kid from “cookies” to the good feeling of having done something for someone else]. Well, now YOU are ready to do your first job as a Santa!”
Make sure you maintain the proper conspiratorial tone.
We then have the child choose someone they know — a neighbor, usually. The child’s mission is to secretly, deviously, find out something that the person needs, and then provide it, wrap it, deliver it — and never reveal to the target where it came from. Being a Santa isn’t about getting credit, you see. It’s unselfish giving.
My oldest chose the “witch lady” on the corner. She really was horrible — had a fence around the house and would never let the kids go in and get a stray ball or Frisbee. She’d yell at them to play quieter, etc — a real pill. He noticed when we drove to school that she came out every morning to get her paper in bare feet, so he decided she needed slippers. So then he had to go spy and decide how big her feet were. He hid in the bushes one Saturday, and decided she was a medium. We went to Kmart and bought warm slippers. He wrapped them up, and tagged it “merry Christmas from Santa.” After dinner one evening, he slipped down to her house, and slid the package under her driveway gate. The next morning, we watched her waddle out to get the paper, pick up the present, and go inside. My son was all excited, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The next morning, as we drove off, there she was, out getting her paper — wearing the slippers. He was ecstatic. I had to remind him that NO ONE could ever know what he did, or he wouldn’t be a Santa.
Over the years, he chose a good number of targets, always coming up with a unique present just for them. One year, he polished up his bike, put a new seat on it, and gave it to one of our friend’s daughters. These people were and are very poor. We did ask the dad if it was ok. The look on her face, when she saw the bike on the patio with a big bow on it, was almost as good as the look on my son’s face.
When it came time for Son #2 to join the ranks, my oldest came along, and helped with the induction speech. They are both excellent gifters, by the way, and never felt that they had been lied to — because they were let in on the Secret of Being a Santa.
I love how she turns doubt into belief through the embodiment of Santa’s spirit in anonymous and undeserved gift-giving. The reward/punishment Santa is easy to disavow. But the grace of the gift-giving Santa is the stuff that brings joy over a lifetime.
If you enjoyed this piece and want more like it in your inbox to help shape your day, 👉 head over here 👈 and subscribe to my email list for free.