Friday, December 9, 2011

Let's Give Thanks to the Lord Above 'Cause Santa Claus Comes Tonight

Santa Claus and Christianity have rather a rocky relationship, don't they? Is he a saint? A decadant example of rampant commercialism? Does he encourage or erode faith in things neither seen nor heard? Are his gifts alms or mammon? It's no wonder that some Christians are rather skittish about the Old Man. Still, I consider myself a great Santa apologist. Here's why:

  • Santa Claus Knows That We're All God's Children. It's funny to think that being poor could have been such a stigma that the singer had to emphasize that Santa will love you even if you aren't rich. We've sort of come to take it for granted that gift reception shouldn't depend on wealth. There are enormous resources to mobilize all and any into providing "a Christmas" for the disadvantaged, and it's no accident that often these organizations are called Sub for Santa, or Santa's Helpers or an equivalent of that. Christian obligation to the poor fits in nicely to the Santa myth--everyone deserves to have not just what they need, but also what they want. While some kids may have a meager Christmas indeed, they wouldn't if Santa had his way. No, if Santa were running this show, if you aren't going to get any presents, it's not because you're poor, or because of who your parents are, but because you were naughty.
  • Be Good for Goodness' Sake. Admittedly, this is the element of Santa that I'm least comfortable with: good kids get gifts, but bad kids do not (and in some cultures, they get a sound beating, or the threat of it). In actuality, the material wealth of families matter in gift-reception (see above), but threat of reward and punishment is a part of the Santa myth--and of Christian doctrine. We don't really like to talk about heaven and hell, and especially not of a threat (it conjures images of a self-righteous Christian saying "do that and you'll go to hell), so we often talk about natural consequences. "You can't really be happy and sin," we say. But part of that is because blessings are stopped up through sin. Obey the commandments and prosper in the land. Hopefully, our goodness becomes something intrinsic rather than just a quid pro quo arrangement, but it's hard to see how doing good is its own reward all the time. Sometimes the reward or threat gets you through the day.
  • Leave a Peppermint Stick for Ol' Saint Nick. Santa wants to have a relationship with you. He wants your letters, wants you to leave a note with the cookies, wants you on his lap whispering in his ear. No one ever thought much about communication with the Easter Bunny. If Santa Claus isn't always checking in on you, it's because he lives so very far away. It's always about more than the Big Night, and I find that striking. He's an adult who wants to tend your needs, and unlike teachers, coaches or even parents, he had no other motive than making you happy. That's incredibly similar to what I imagine God's motives being.
  • Ho, ho, ho, Who Wouldn't Go?My favorite part about Santa is that he isn't your parents. He is, but he isn't. They can give their children all the gifts that they would like without any threat of appreciation or thanks. You don't even have to write him a card. Santa represents selfless service, the opportunity to give our alms not before men. Parents, especially, who sacrifice constantly for their children--not just for fun things like gifts and candy, but for heating bills and orthodontics--can pretend that they didn't sacrifice at all and that the children can just enjoy their gifts gratis. What applies to parents and children can apply to anyone. Want to donate money to a charity anonymously? Leave food for a struggling family? Santa is the perfect cover.

This isn't to say that I'm thrilled about all aspects of Santa-ism (he probably should lay off the cookies, and elf workshops sound distressingly like slave labor), but over all, I'm in the Old Man's corner.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

I love it! I confess, the idea of getting rid of Santa (which many of my acquaintance have chosen to do) sounds a lot like "getting rid of the spirit of Christmas". Yes, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, but the birth of Christ is very much about the things you bring up here. We have Easter to contemplate pain and joy, death and resurrection. Christmas is a time for warmth and selfless gifts. Well spoken, Mary!