Fad toys may come and go, but Santa Claus will always be popular.
Leading up to Christmas, children delight in hearing tales of his elves making toys in the North Pole, his annual Christmas Eve trip around the globe in a flying sled pulled by reindeer, sack in tow, overflowing with presents. Yet, as good as it makes us all feel, from the perspective of Christian faith, the story of Santa Claus is problematic.
At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, and with all due respect to Virginia, I think it does us well to critically assess Santa’s’ core messages: presents are for the nice children, and a lump of coal awaits the naughty ones. Though I have never actually heard of a child having awoken to the sight of a lump of coal in a stocking, adults do make a point of impressing upon children that Santa Claus dispenses gifts on the basis of behaviour.
This contrasts sharply with the Christian Gospel, which proclaims that Jesus Christ came into the world to forgive those who did not deserve to be forgiven, to save those who do not deserve to be saved. The gift of eternal life is given in spite of poor behaviour, not because of good behaviour. And if the goal is to instill spiritual values in children, placing great emphasis on the acquisition of consumer goods, the wanting and getting of more “stuff,” is hardly a way.
No, I am not saying that the mall visits, beloved songs, or present deliveries stop, but may I gently suggest that the Santa Claus narrative is in need of some revising.
St. Nicholas was, after all, a real person—a follower of Jesus, a fourth century bishop who had a great heart for the poor and love for children.
It is said that he distributed his substantial inheritance to the poor, and as a modest person, gave gifts not with a bellowing voice, drawing attention to himself, but quietly— as do countless people today, whose hearts are filled with generosity and compassion this time of year and throughout.