Christians struggle with Santa Clause. Seems that you are either not letting the fat-man into your house or he’s all over the house in decorations ad nauseum. We love him or we hate him. Surely the world looks at us and thinks that we’ve lost it, “what the big deal?”
Everybody is going to make up their own mind about Santa and the practice will follow. Whatever. Yet, it seems like the typical Christian responses of either swallow the thing hook, line and sinker or act like Santa’s evil won’t do. We miss too many things either way.
There are reasons to be concerned about Santa, of course. There are also reasons to rejoice because he’s around. As a symbol, Santa gives us both.
Santa’s coming should be (certainly could be) a blessing and a boon to Christmas. He is a symbol of some things that are wonderful. What do we like about him?
He comes every year without fail! He is consistent and dependable and even though he’s keeping lists (naughty and nice?), his big-heartedness always wins out and our stockings get filled. Children love him because no matter how they act, he comes. He gives them gifts they didn’t earn. He’s mysterious and invisible and does amazing things but isn’t scary! He’s like a superhero and a rock star all in one fat package! He’s a man and that means he’s a tough guy (I mean, he’s out in the freezing cold in a flying sleigh for dog-dog!). Kids like him, too, because they only have to be reminded to obey once a year!
Parents like him because he gives them an excuse to go into debt! They also get to look down their noses at their children and remind them to be nice rather than naughty. Santa reminds us of something that’s good and larger than life. He lives at the North Pole and that means he’s above the fray of the day-to-day trouble we all live with. He is relentless and ubiquitous. He is who they hope God is – only they hope God is better. He isn’t a judgmental character (or his judgments aren’t very weighty). He makes no distinctions – he goes to all houses, after all. Santa symbolizes hope, grace and God. Giving and strong; relentless and kind; all-seeing but jolly. He’s all we want God to be, no?
Let’s be honest. Santa does miss some things. Casting all our hopes on one who is like a Super Santa isn’t all its cracked up to be. Santa looks past great evil and injustice; he just acts like its not there for a day. He doesn’t punish evil. He doesn’t fight our enemies. He makes no specific promises that carry us through the immensely difficult patches of life. He can’t kill the impulses in our hearts that drive us to sin and hate each other. His gift giving is often shallow feeling and fleeting. He doesn’t deal with what happens to us after we die. He represents a departure from the first and intended meaning of the season: the birth of the Savior of the world. He also represents what has become a troubling aspect of our culture: materialism. Santa’s all about gifts. We only like to think about the upside of gifts – the fun-receiving-opening-and-reveling part. We try not to think about what we always inevitably think about with those gifts: the cost, the debt, the appetite for more it produces. We all know this is true, but we ignore it.
Santa is a good symbol. He brings all kinds of things that are good back to our wearied and fatigued minds. He also reminds us (or should) that there is so much more to life and death. Probably my favorite depiction of Santa comes from C.S. Lewis’ work, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the popular movie, Father Christmas catches up to the Pevensie children. What he says is remarkable. He reminds them that he was unable to break through the spell of the Witch (“always winter and never Christmas”) but now that Aslan has come, he is able to return. After bestowing gifts upon the children, he bellows, “Long live Aslan!” (The book’s account is slightly different, “Long live the True King”.) Father Christmas depended upon Aslan.
Santa depends on God. Without Christ’s coming, there would be no Santa. Let’s not forget.