The magical bubble of Santa has been popped. As a child this happened to me on the playground when a neighborhood boy mocked my belief in Jolly Old Saint Nick. I was 10. As an adult this happened recently when my husband and I were told by a Church authority that by introducing Santa into the lives of our children, we were choosing to lie to them.
Ouch! I never thought of it that way. Parenthood pushes us out of our comfort zone daily. Whether it’s a birth plan, sleepless nights, nursing or formula, disposable or cloth diapers, immunizations, health, stay-at-home mothering, daycare, preschool, full-day kindergarten, education, sports, dating, driving, college, employment, marriage, family, grandchildren, death—we are not immune to life or the decisions we need to make that are best for our children. Santa Claus included.
To find some peace on earth within my own heart on this matter, I pondered the reasons why the introduction of Santa may not be so harmful.
1. Tradition is important.
My childhood family tradition was attending Mass on Christmas Eve at a missionary center in our town. Afterwards, the priests and brothers who resided there offered their guests music, food, and carols. We would enjoy the festivities and load up on food and punch. Our bellies full, my older sister and I would curl up on one of the couches by the window and look up in anticipation of seeing Santa. Even if we could not see him, we both heard the bells of his sleigh. On our drive home, my father intentionally drove past impressive light displays. We would sing “Silent Night” until we parked the car in our garage. Our parents started off the night by putting the celebration of the Eucharist first and foremost and ended the night by tucking us into our warm beds. The following morning, we weren’t allowed to touch any presents without getting on our knees and thanking the good Lord first. The pile under the tree was always modest, but the celebration was so rich.
2. Saint Nicholas was real.
Saint Nicholas actually existed. We can teach our children about this saint, known as the patron of children; he was a saint who served the poor. We will also revere the birth of Christ with the celebration of Mass. Even Father Christmas knows that. Many modern day nativity scenes show Santa genuflecting by the side of baby Jesus. We will wish our dear Savior a happy birthday and ritualize it with singing, candles, and a cake. Our children will know how lucky we are because Jesus wants to share his birthday with us. Perhaps Saint Nick is the man to deliver all those birthday gifts?
3. Wonder is good.
The idea of Santa can be a foretaste of heaven. The joy and excitement in my heart when Christmas Eve arrived helped to stir up the big questions. Why are we privileged to have such a wonderful feast day? Who are we in the scheme of things? Legend teaches boys and girls to be on their best behavior to be worthy of receiving gifts. Well, isn’t that true of us as children of God? Love God and thy neighbor to reach the gift of eternal life.
My husband had similar Christmas experiences when he was growing up. Now we are seeking to strike a healthy balance for our own family. We will chop down and decorate a tree. The evergreen tree is a symbol of everlasting life. We will eat candy. We explain that the candy cane resembles the letter J, for Jesus. We will be easy on ourselves when grumpiness rears its ugly head. We have Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to reassure us. When the temptation of envy confronts us, when we see and hear about the extravagant gifts purchased for family, friends, and our children’s peers, we can look to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life to remind us how blessed we really are. When it is quiet and we are singing our children to sleep, we can think of how the soul felt its worth in O Holy Night.
Come to think of it, there is no problem with Santa after all.