Okay, kids, I admit that I haven’t been telling you the whole truth about Santa Claus. I will say that I do really still believe in him. It’s just that he’s a lot different to me than you know of him so far.
Up until now the Santa Claus you know is basically a character from a story. While much of that story is made up, meaning it is not fact, there is a lot of truth in the story of Santa Claus.
It is true that there is a parental presence out there that exists primarily to give you all good things and help you experience the wonder of the Christmas story. It is true that your willingness to receive good things and anticipate Christmas with excitement and joy are what light up the whole season. It is true that your willingness to believe, your openness, your eagerness, and your joy are examples for us adults to remember as we approach the gift of the incarnate God. Adulthood tends to be a wonder-killer. You kids protect us adults from becoming disconnected from wonder.
So, yes, we put on a “play” for you of sorts. The play teaches a lesson about a fundamental truth of life – that Love makes it a joy to give to others and it is essential that we be open to receive from those who love us. Yes, the stuff about reindeer, elves, chimneys and stockings are mostly folklore. But it’s a fun, magical, and wondrous story. And stories, fun, and imagination are the best way to teach young children the fundamental truths of life.
So, you say, Santa Claus isn’t real after all? Well, yes, I say, Santa is quite real. But not in the way you’d know yet. The other kids who’ve been telling you that Santa is “just your parents” are very wrong.
Santa Claus is bigger than just a story of a man who goes around giving gifts. Santa Claus was St. Nicholas, a real saint, in the historical sense, whose generosity to the poor was legendary. The historical St. Nicholas points us to the generosity in the gift of God’s very self in the baby Jesus. Santa Claus, Sinterklass, Father Christmas, the legend, is a global icon of the spirit of giving. But in modern times, what some might call “reality,” Santa Claus is the body of all people, many of them parents, who embrace the joy of giving good things to those they love, communicating the wonder of Christmas, and pointing to the ultimate Gift of Love made incarnate in the Christmas Story.
Ever wonder why I don’t really care what I get for Christmas? It’s because I get to experience being part of Santa, Santa being part of me, and Santa being something much bigger than me, a human image of an eternal truth that stands for the ages. I tell you that being on the adult side of Santa Claus is way cooler than experiencing the childhood Santa Claus story.
So why not just tell us the truth from the beginning, you ask? Well, we have been telling you the truth. At the kid level. At age three I could have given you a theological explanation, a historical description, and an explanation of the difference between “truth” and “fact,” “reality” and “existence.” And you would justifiably have tuned me out in two seconds. How do you explain wonder, generosity, the idea of Love made visible through a tangible gift to a small child except through a story? Such a wonderful truth is bigger than mere facts.
And so you’re at the age where you are ready to know more. You are ready to start helping make the wonder happen for younger children. Or worse, kill it for the younger kids by making them feel silly for believing in Santa Claus. You can already start to experience the joy of the giver. But to get there, you needed to experience the wonder for yourselves first.
Look, when you were a baby we fed you formula. Later we gave you soft food and cut stuff up into little pieces. Even now we give you only the food we think you are ready for, challenging you gradually to expand what food you experience. Were we lying to you because we didn’t set you down to a plate of Thai curry at age three? No, we just make the world of food age-appropriate for you. Your palate won’t be fully-formed until you are an adult and you can appreciate bitter foods more. Mom and I just this year took Hannah to one of the restaurants we go to on our dates. Her eyes were opened to a whole world of gourmet food she had never seen before. (Food you would find quite yucky, by the way). Were we keeping the truth of gourmet dining from her? No, we were just waiting until she could appreciate it with the proper perspective.
So the Santa Story is kind of like that – a crusts-cut-off, kid-food version of a very profound truth of life, delivered in the form that best suited the way you experienced the world — through stories, fun, and imagination. Now you’re ready to see a little more. And you have the responsibility to help the younger kids learn about Christmas in the way it suits them, not you.
It turns out that many of the realities of being older are going to make the things you believed as a younger child seem silly or quaint. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way we all grow up. Remember that there is no “lie” in the Childhood version of the Truth. It’s just that there is a wider, more wonderful, truth that you will experience when you are ready. Remember this in a few years when we have the talk about God and the Holy Trinity, okay?
And, by the way, you’ve all been very good this year (mostly) and Santa Claus will not forget that.