There. I said it.
He does not exist.
There is no man in a red suit flying overhead on Christmas Eve taking toys to every good little boy and girl in every country, in every city all over the world. There are no reindeer. There is no North Pole. There aren’t elves or a magic toyshop. A strange man is not coming into your home and nibbling on cookies and drinking just a gulp of milk. (Because let’s face it… if a strange man is in your home, he’s probably not there for cookies. And if he is, he’d probably eat them all… I would.)
No. Santa does not exist in the form that we currently create for our children. It’s true.
With that said, however, I believe with all my heart and all my soul that Santa is real.
He is as real as we make him out to be. He brings as much presence into our homes at Christmas time as we will allow him. And he often makes Christmas the magic that it is.
But what is more real to me every day about Santa is that he holds an incredible power over the children who do believe in him. He holds power that we parents often fail to wield. Especially moms, if I can speak from experience. He has the power to draw awe and wonder from little eyes. He has the power to strike fear into the hearts of children. He has the power to sway decisions and attitudes and behaviors. With a twinkle of his eye, a touch of his nose, a stern look, a simple nod. Santa has power.
Which is no wonder we like to bring him out of the world of make-believe this time of year. We bring him out. Dust him off. Set him on the shelf (if you will). Make him very, very real. And we begin to use his power to our benefit.
The mantra goes something like this: “He’s making a list. He’s checkin’ it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”
This is where Santa loses his appeal for me.
Let’s examine the other side of Christmas just for a moment. Because that is one side that I do believe is real.
Jesus is real.
There. I said it.
Jesus did… and does exist.
Jesus was born to a woman. He was laid in a manger surrounded by animals. He was visited by shepherds and kings. Peasants and princes. He grew up like a normal child under the tutelage of human parents and surrounded by simple townspeople. And yet deep in his soul He knew the mysteries of heaven. His hands formed the stars and his eyes witnessed the devastation of mankind. He knew our reality better than we did. He knew our vain attempts at perfection. He knew our pride-filled lists of rules and regulations. He knew our overwhelming inadequacy in the face of an almighty God. And He knew that He knew that He knew that the LAST thing we needed was a Santa Clause. With his list and his stern nod and his naughty and nice. Because if we really got what we deserved, there would be no Christmas. Ever.
No… Jesus knew that we didn’t need Santa.
He knew we needed grace.
He knew that children grow up with a bent toward naughty, which is why we created this magical headmaster who gives candy to good little boys and girls and raps the knuckles of the bad ones. He knew that we would pound our legalism and our list-making and our rules and regulations into their heads even if it meant the unwitting sacrifice of the birthday of Grace.
The very truth of Christmas is lost in the very tradition that we think makes Christmas so magical. No… for some reason we cannot comprehend what is just so magical about being told, “It doesn’t matter what you do or how you act… you’re still going to get presents.” We don’t see the magic in that. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t make our children more obedient. Or it doesn’t make our hustling bustling season easier because we can’t just say a name and make our kids straighten up.
We use Santa for our own devices. We use him to get what we want. We use him to boost our egos and feed our perfectionism. We straight out lie to our children by telling them they will not get what they want if they are not good… but we always give them presents anyways. Good or bad. I’d love to hear if you have ever denied your child Christmas because they were ‘naughty’.
No… we use the power of Santa until Santa really comes. And then suddenly we want grace all over again. Santa crumbles under the banner of love, doesn’t he? You preach legalism for two months but when the night comes you find more joy in putting together bikes and piling the tree full of presents than you ever found in making your kids squirm. The wonder in their eyes. The joy in their squeals of delight. The excitement and peace and love they find when they get presents anyways (even though they could probably tell you the number of times they have disobeyed that year).
So tell me again why we replace Grace with Santa? Why do we push for perfection when our kids will find it unachievable? Why do we enforce good behavior and being nice when in the end we are going to share grace and love anyways? Why not start out the season with the Good News of God’s amazing GRACE by bringing Santa in on the deal? Why not nurture the truth that our children will never be perfect, but God (and Santa) loves them anyways?
I grew up believing that I had to earn God’s love. This was not the fault of anyone around me. It was inherent. It was in my very nature. I believed that if I went to church and did all the right things and minded my P’s and Q’s that God would love me (more). That God would bless me (more). And that I would be more accepted (and acceptable). I believed in Santa Clause… not God.
Only later in life when I went through the fire of sin and suffering and rebellion and chaos. A clash of morals. A test of the truth in my heart that would make the most pious priest turn away. Only then did I meet Grace. Only then did I truly understand the magic of Christmas. Only then, when I had nothing left to offer. When I realized that no matter how hard I tried I could never make the ‘nice’ list. Only then did I learn that no matter how hard I tried, I could never make the ‘naughty’ list either. I was captured in Grace.
Which is why our Santa will not send an Elf to our shelf. Santa will not give us dirty looks when we throw tantrums in the mall. Santa will not take away our toys when we refuse to clean up our room. And Santa will not mark out our names on his master list.
Because he’s not real.
He is who we (mommy and daddy) make him to be.
And in our house, he will be a better representation of the true meaning of Christmas. He will model the grace that was given in a manger. The gift the world really needed. He will not make our children behave any better or worse (that’s our job). Because he will know that our children can never be perfect, but they will always, always be loved. They will always, always be offered grace by their Creator. And we will let Someone Else who is not quite so stained by this world as we are do the judging on who is naughty or nice.
Happy Birthday, Grace.