Posts Tagged ‘Santa Claus’

Confusing Jesus and Santa

I’ve been thinking  about Christmas or rather, about the power of the idea of Christmas.   Not just the combination of a Christmas tree; how we decorate them, why we bring them indoors, where we place them or the gifts; why we give them, who gets them, how many we give, but of the coming together with ‘family’ or a reasonable facsimile for family when our biological equivalents aren’t with us. As parents, we all feel sad if our children are not in the same room with us on Christmas morning. There’s even that nostalgia of longing for those little ones they once were. Even after a lifetime of transitioning from being the recipient of Christmas to becoming the creators of Christmas, we hold to our ideas of what Christmas should be and are disappointed, depressed, or drunk when it isn’t.


There seems to be no other celebration in our lives that warrants the same devotion to the memories of tradition.  Unlike birthdays with a cake and a present,  there is the tree and the gifts, the decorating and the food, and the person of Santa Claus with his role in rewarding the ‘good’ ones and punishing the ‘naughty’ ones. I remember vividly the fear of actually receiving a ‘lump of coal’ in my stocking, even though I had no real experience with coal, let alone knew what a lump looked like. Funny how always the word ‘lump’ was combined with coal; ‘lump of coal’ not ‘chunk of coal’ or ‘rock of coal’ a description that made you think of scary things like Quasimodo, witches or goblins, or things that go bump in the night, purposefully meant to coerce good behaviour  from any believing child. I had a vague notion of what a ‘switch’ was, having been on the receiving end of the Alder branch my father cut to administer his unique brand of discipline in the back seat of the Volkswagen. I doubt whether my parents actually considered putting a lump of coal and a switch at the bottom of my Christmas stocking,  but rather liked the idea of the threat and using it to make me behave.  Rather distorted when I think back.


Read “T’was The Night Before Christmas”, any controversy surrounding its origins notwithstanding, made anonymously public in 1823 and attributed fourteen years later to Clement Moore, for a  description of Santa Claus as the “right jolly old elf” who lugged the presents in a sack and came down a chimney, and who was transported in this task by eight reindeer, all of whom he knew personally. These facts were impressed upon us at a very young age  by my father who recited all fifty-six lines every year until it became what we embraced as our own Christmas tradition. No less part of Christmas than his quirky rendition of the line; “tore open the shutters and threw up the sash” as “tore open the shutters and threw up on the sash”.  Every year we waited for him to make this ‘mistake’.  Very much like his singing of the Christian hymn, “I Shall Wear a Golden Crown When I Get Home” which he sang as; “I Shall Wear a Golden Crown, If I Get Home.”  Despite this, as children my sisters and I were not raised to believe that this jolly old elf was the bearer of our presents.  There was never that gut wrenching moment when we discovered the lie, no school chum let the cat out of the bag to ruin everything.  Instead, we knew our mother was really in charge of Christmas.  It was rumored that as a girl, she herself had been devastated to learn the truth of Santa Claus and wished to spare her own children this disappointment.  Instead of the whole thing hinging on one Christmas character, the myth was embraced as part of the traditions and we came to accept this willingly. Together with “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Keep Christ in Christmas”, we sang in Christmas concerts at church and wrapped up the celebration like everyone else.


It is in thinking about Santa Claus that brings Christmas to my mind this year, so distinctly attired we would all recognize him if we met him, and the associated premise of receiving a gift only if you are on the nice list. The naughty are acknowledged, but no child would believe for a moment they would arrive at Christmas on the naughty list. “You better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout, I’m telling you why…” Even if there had been a year of extraordinarily bad behaviour, somehow arriving at Christmas exempts us all from thinking the consequence would be a lump of coal.  Children and adults alike catch the spirit of Christmas and for a season hope they’ll be excused, or forgiven.


Because Christmas is both a secular and religious observance, we spend our lives mixing the pleasures of retail therapy with “O Holy Night”, togetherness and good will toward men with the picture of Santa offering a thirst quenching Coca Cola, huge servings of abundance, with charity towards those less fortunate.  We know we are capable of better and Christmas is the season that reminds us the good receive gifts. This is where we confuse the two faces of Christmas, holy and happy.  Carrying on our Christmas traditions will make us happy. You will be happy if your children are in the same room with you on Christmas morning, opening up the presents you have worked hard all year to afford.  You have expended great energy in decorating the tree, and the house and labored long over the meal all of you will share.  You have given to those less fortunate.  You have even attended the church service, or the candlelight ceremony that gives a religious nod to the holy part.  It’s all so exhausting, especially when we do all that and yet we are not happy.


Religion has done Jesus a disservice I think, it has made Him out to be Santa Claus. Years of holiday advertising allows us to recognize Santa but Jesus has remained a baby in a barn and at Christmas, that’s how we celebrate Him.  Jesus, like Santa becomes a  benevolent creation with gifts to give to those who are good and we all believe we are good. There is no other time of year when this becomes more apparent than Christmas. We may not believe in the existence of Jesus, like  Santa – but we still hope to be happy if we just uphold all our traditions and celebrate with everyone else. Even though as kids we knew there was no Santa, we still believed we would get presents.  No. That’s not true.  We didn’t just believe we would get presents, we knew we would because our mother was in charge of Christmas and we had faith she would create all that we came to believe was what Christmas should be.


Have you heard?  You won’t see it until you believe it.   We had faith. Somewhere between there and here religion tried diligently to convince me that if I was good, I would get gifts.  This I know, is a myth of Santa proportion. The gifts have been given to me and they are already mine and there is no correlation between my goodness and the giving of gifts. Believing in myself is not required. In fact nothing is required of me. That is the essence of a gift. Even though I had no idea what coal looked like, I knew it wasn’t something a ‘good’ child received at Christmas.  Instinctively I knew as well, that candy canes and chocolates were more to my liking. No one had to tell me the difference. I knew what a good gift was. James says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”


I believe the real joy of Christmas is just accepting the gift. If you choose not to get past the layers of religion that has wrapped up and covered the simple giving of a gift,  it matters little how well you celebrate Christmas or whether you celebrate at all.


Words Past