The story of Santa Claus begins in the third century, when the man who would become Saint Nicholas started life as Nikolaos of Myra. He was, by most accounts, a good man who did not wear a XXXL red jumpsuit, but who did try to bring the unconditional love of Christ into the world in a way that cemented him forever into the mythology of Christmas. His most famous adventure involves him slipping down the chimney of a house full of young girls who could not be married because their father had no money for their dowries. Ol’ St. Nick snuck in and left money in their stockings, which were hung to dry by the fireplace (which I assume was not lit), and the girls were saved from a lifetime of destitute begging in that misogynistic, patriarchal time. Merry Christmas indeed.
Yes, Santa was a force for good in the universe, and he loved all of the children of the world, including the children who were going to be eaten as hams. But that is a gross story for another day. You can look it up on Wikipedia or something if you want to read about it. But anyway, like the early church, Santa existed to bring the good news of love, joy, peace, and hope to all the people that he met, and so he was well regarded in that way. And then, like the early church, he began to institutionalize.
Factories were built, sweatshops created, and, most terrifying of all, he began his illegal surveillance program. Suddenly there was a list. Two lists, in fact, were made. One was the “nice list,” the other the infamous “naughty list.” But unlike the lists in heaven, which are mentioned in Luke 10:20, there didn’t seem to be any getting off of Santa’s naughty list. If you were not good all year long, Santa would be angry. His love was very conditioned. Follow him, or be left behind. There are no rewards for the unbelievers. There is no forgiveness in Santa now.
Now, I ask you, is this the way to teach children about Christmas? Is this the way to tell them about the unconditional love that came down from heaven on December 25th* and gave up life so that all could live? The man that loved robbers, thieves, the handicapped, the unemployed, the sexually employed, and the corrupt? The man who had no naughty list, but had only a list of people to love and to change in the best and most mysterious ways? I would suggest that it is not. Although I would also suggest that the church has often followed Santa down his dark path of questionable tactics.
*not the actual date
To make matters worse, Santa has recently overseen the creation of the frightening S.E.S. (Shelf Elf Service). These agents regularly infiltrate homes and spy on children, reporting back to the big man himself. Santa, who once personally walked the Earth looking for ways to help all people, now sits sequestered in a remote location, only appearing once a year, and using spy networks to bump as many kids as he can off of his to-do list. If that sounds Christmasy to you, then I don’t think you know what Christmas is all about.
Are you caught up? Are you worried more about giving gifts to people than loving them? Has it become an obligation? Let me tell you, I don’t want any gift from someone for which the buying and choosing of it causes that person stress. I give gifts because I love to give them. I buy too many gifts. I know. But it is because I want people to feel loved. I want my kids to know that, no matter what they do, there will be a present for them under the tree. I want them to feel that, when they mess up, there is redemption. I want them to walk as children of light, and I want to lessen the burden of the darkness on them as much as I can. I have to. I am a parent. And yeah, we need to get our kids to behave, and there need to be consequences, but do we have to use Christmas in that way? Easter, if you will, is perhaps about consequences. Christmas is about the beginning of the story of unconditional love.
So relax. Enjoy the season. Feel the love. Even the ones who have gone on ahead of us are still with us. You can feel their force ghosts, can’t you? Talk to them. Love them. Get back to why we are celebrating this time of the light returning to our world. Because the darkness will never fully overtake us, no matter what Santa’s list says. Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas.