Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Warning: This article contains graphic truth about Santa Claus (which may be unsuitable for young children), unusual candor (which may be unsuitable for some adults), and personal disclosure (which may be unsuitable for my mother).
I turned 62 this year. To many, that seems really old. I was in my 20’s when my dad passed away at age 54, and I recall having this sense that he’d lived a good, long life. A good long life, at 54? Viewed from my youthful eyes that seemed old at the time, but obviously wasn’t.
Age is relative, it seems, but that’s another topic. I just want to make the point that I’ve been around for a while now.
As an AARP member, who proudly orders his discounted “senior” black coffee at the McDonald’s drive-thru, I’ve seen the social landscape about Santa Claus change over the years. Some of my perspective is shaped from changes in my life too, most notably my discovering that God is not a fable. He is unquestionably real, and more reliable than the sun rising in the east.
My world view changed drastically when I connected with Jesus 36 years ago, and came to know Him as the “Truth” (John 14:6). He became the plumb line for my life, and as my relationship with Jesus matured, so my view of Santa changed some also.
As a backdrop to this, let me explain that I had a negative experience about truth and Santa when I was living in Troy, Ohio, at age seven or eight.
My extended family always made a huge deal about Christmas, with decorating to the max, mega gift giving, and a lavish gathering at my grandparents for dinner on Christmas day. My immediate family did Christmas as soon as my brother and I woke up, which was early.
There were always tons of gifts from Santa, matching a list we’d mailed to the North Pole of items from the Sears Christmas Catalog. It was amazing how our live tree, decorated with C7 lights, a collection of ornaments, and silver ice cycles, could be barren when we went to bed, but overflowing with gifts when we arose.
Santa really came overnight, just like they said he would! What a wonderous experience.
The tradition this particular Christmas went awry, however. I guess it was my fault. I’d already sent my wish list to Santa, and while on break from school I was poking around in the garage.
I wasn’t doing anything wrong, until I decided to go into Dad’s workshop, which was “off limits” in December. When I turned on the light, I was aghast to see the shop cluttered with gifts, many of which had been on my list for Santa. I was naïve, but not stupid, and the dib was up.
When I asked Mom about it, she countered with the perfect retort: “you don’t really think that Santa can get all around the world in one night, do you? He had to drop our gifts off early this year.”
Though that seemed reasonable, Christmas was never quite the same thereafter.
Influenced by that experience, and the fact that some of my church friends seemingly just didn’t like Santa Claus at all, we introduced a different tradition in our house. We told the kids about the fun game we like to play at Christmas called “Santa”, who leaves the North Pole in December to visit with kids at the mall, has elves and reindeer, likes to bring gifts, and represents the true spirit of Christmas.
The game rules say that on Christmas Eve we have to leave out lots of sugar cookies with milk, and that we should sleep in a little on Christmas morning (and it worked!). We said we’d play pretend for as long as they’d like. Our son played for lots of years, and our daughter still does.
There are all kinds of stories about Santa’s history, some are kind of grisly and some kind of quaint. With all the alleged fake news these days, it is difficult to know what is true. We really have to closely consider the source of our information.
• Per “Christianity Today”, which I consider reliable, there probably was a St. Nicholas who became the bishop of Myra (in Turkey) sometime in the 300’s. Though not validated by any historical document, there are many legends that tout the miracles performed, his generosity, and care for the underprivileged. I’d say those characteristics describe the spirit of Christmas pretty well.
• Per the Bible, which is undeniably reliable, there genuinely was a baby named Jesus, born in Bethlehem, who was called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). It is historically validated that he performed miracles, had unparalleled compassion for others, boldly confronted injustice, and willingly gave His life so we could be pardoned for our shortcomings. Jesus is the Spirit of Christmas.
To quote Pontius Pilate in John 18:38, “What is truth?” That remains a good question, and we have a good answer: Jesus. I don’t find the story of Jesus’ birth and the tradition of Santa Claus at Christmas to be mutually exclusive at all, as long as we acknowledge which one is true. Jesus told us (John 8:32), “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus is the truth, the truth that can set us free.
And with that, may I wish you a Merry CHRISTmas!!
Dave Hinman is Pastoral Elder at Dove Church in Wilmington. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.