Santa, Dickens, And The Real Meaning Of Christmas

I remember the first Christmas when I started to wake up from the belief in Santa. I don’t remember how old I was, but I know from the house we were in that I was about in the third grade. Kids were mean back then, as they inevitably always are, so I had most likely been bullied by some classmate for my faith in Old Saint Nick.

The room that I shared with my sister was an enormous one. On the side nearest the hall and the rest of the house was an attached bath with a three-dimensional plaque on the wall of Big Bird from Sesame Street smiling down at me. Opposite the bath was a large bay window that looked out into the yard. Between the two walls were our bunk beds and shelves stuffed with linens, clothes, and toys.  I loved that room.

I remember feeling dismally sad when Christmas Eve came. My sister and I were scurried off to our beds with the advisory that can only be given at Christmas: “You must be in your beds before Santa comes or you may not get your presents”. I was dismally sad because I wasn’t sure there was a Santa to be bringing me presents. I desperately wanted to believe, but I was losing my belief.

At just that moment, I heard sleigh bells coming from the roof of my house! I ran to the bay window in my room and heard them again–louder. This time it sounded like hooves may have been with them. What doubts I had vanished. I flew into bed and pulled the covers over my head, so Santa would find a good girl at my house and leave her presents. Some parents may have climbed on roofs and shaked bells to help their children believe, but mine didn’t. What I heard was as real as it ever could be, and it came at a time when I desperately needed it. Children need to believe in Santa.

There is a wonder and magic to Christmas that hovers in the airy notes of Christmas songs and tastes sweet with Christmas goodies and hot chocolate. It twinkles in the lights on houses and trees. It reflects in the image of every treasured ornament. It laughs with families as they gather and share meals, and as they create tornadoes of torn paper from unwrapped presents. At Christmas it feels like all your best and brightest hopes and dreams can come true. For a moment, they actually do.

But what happens when a child stops believing in Santa Clause? What happens is the child loses their sense of awe and wonder about the world. They can’t dream or aspire to greatness because they can’t imagine a world beyond what they can see or create. They are harder to please and tend to expect everything to be handed to them. They worry constantly about what others think of them, so they spend more time in social media then they do face-to-face and unplugged. Does this sound familiar? We have a lot of Scrooge-like children–and adults–in the world today.

I think the trouble starts when greedy parents want all the glory for the gifts they are giving. They tell the child that they are the ones that bought the gifts with the “from Santa” tags. They tell them this for no other reason than to see all the thankfulness for the gifts be directed to the true person who provided for them.

Another contributing factor to this epidemic is the misguided Christians who tell their children not to believe in Santa because they feel his presence takes away from that of the Christ child. They see the commercialism that comes with Santa as feeding the proverbial sweet tooth of want that most kids have. As the wish lists grow longer, kids step farther away from the true meaning of Christmas and into their own caverns of selfishness and want. I wonder how different Christmas could be if we let it be a learning opportunity to interact with our kids. What if the kind, generous man called Santa giving gifts to others became a spotlight on the fact that God gave the ultimate gift of his Son to the Earth?

I don’t know where Santa is these days, but I know where he isn’t. He’s not in a store increasing sales numbers. He’s not in a movie with no other lines than “ho, ho, ho.” He isn’t in a chapel reveared as a god, nor is he on a name tag borrowed by boozy elves filled with too much Christmas “spirit”. Wherever Santa is, I bet he’s looking at a digitised naughty and nice list–he’s cool with techie stuff like that. I bet he is still eating Mrs. Clause’s cookies with eggnog and giving too many samples to Rudolph and his friends. I bet he is more than a little disappointed by the people on his naughty list and how much longer that list is than the other one. But Santa is nothing if not optimistic; he is still holding out hope for us Scrooges to change.

In the same way, God is holding out hope too. He never intended for us to become embittered by Christmas or enraged by it to rally to a cause. God doesn’t expect his people to tear Santa out of Christmas or, as some are in the habit of doing, refuse to celebrate it altogether. He expects us to love each other and approach the world with childlike innocence and wonder.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 18:1-4, NIV

This is the lesson Scrooge learned himself in the end of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

 “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

This Christmas, may you find yourself learning to see the world through the eyes of a child. May that sense of Christian wonder, awe, and charity guide you through the coming year.

13 thoughts on “Santa, Dickens, And The Real Meaning Of Christmas

  1. Children believe in the wonderland of North Pole, innocent and gullible. But I do not like the idea of parents teaching Santa as truth. I can’t help wondering what a child thinks when he finds that mom and dad have been lying to him. You can enjoy the tradition of Santa Clause without teaching it as truth. And as you say kids can be mean even if they do not mean to. Some do laugh at the idea of older children still believing in Santa Clause. And the bullies can have a field day. This from my years in the classroom. This issue is awfully close to me because my nine year old g-gdaughter (fourth grade) was telling me about when “real” Santa was coming to their house. I thought she was pulling my leg. I said, “You are good at telling that story.” (something like that) Then I found out from mom that she really did believe it. Well, I will not mention it nor fall into that situation again, but neither will I lie if they were to ask. I wouldn’t tell, but I will send them to mom and dad. Children that age need to know the difference in fact and fiction.

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    • I think the point is to let them believe as long as they can because that belief is part of their creativity and faith. I would use Santa as an opportunity to teach kids about why Santa may be giving gifts this year (A reminder of Christ)

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  2. There is a time and place for explaining Santa. My position is that that time is not in childhood. My position is also that we are missing an important learning opportunity in all this if we do.

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  3. I remember how magical Christmas was when I believed in Santa. When I stopped believing, Christmas lost its magic for a a few years afterwards. Now, as we get older, Christmas is about being with those you love and giving what you can to those who are without. I love your examples here about being Christians, having faith, and “approaching the world a child-like wonder and innocence.” Thank you for the reminders about the true reason for the season. Keep up the great work and may God continue to bless your life and spirit throughout 2018.

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  4. Christmas was such a magical time for me as a child. My mom made sure of that, and I have tried to carry on that tradition with my own children and grandchildren. All through the Christmas season, I have flashbacks of Christmases past as a child opening Santa with my brother on Christmas morning and then on Christmas Eve night when we were older, going to grand mama Anderson’s for Christmas day lunch and then to my mom’s mother, “Other Mama” on Christmas night. She always put three blue Christmas lights in her picture window and I could see them long before we reached her house. I never see a blue Christmas light to this day that I don’t think of Other Mama’s picture window. Yes Rebecca, you are right. Giving Christmas magic to a child goes a long way.

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  5. I still love Christmas, even though I’ve long stopped believing in Santa. I still count down to the hours till Christmas from Christmas eve, as I did as a kid. I used to stay up all night and countdown, waiting for Santa to come.

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  6. I miss how Christmas was when I was a child, all the families gathering around with food and laughter (the presents were a plus). As a married adult though, everything has changed. We don’t gather around, we don’t exchange presents, we’re lucky if we even see our families around Christmas, considering my husbands family and I do not get along at all, it’s hard. I do believe people are to caught up in exchanging presents to grasp the real reason of Christmas. I feel like that’s never going to change to be honest. We have so many kids now a days that get whatever they want the first time they ask, that they aren’t happy with not getting what they wanted or getting anything at all on Christmas. I wish I could say things would get better but unfortunately, I think this is the life we live in now.

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  7. I went to great lengths to keep Santa alive in my daughter’s eyes when she was a child, the powdered footprints on the carpet, the letters, the mostly eaten treats left out for him, etc. They were the fondest days can I remember. Christmas was always my favorite time of year though after she grew up and moved away it became different. I still love driving around looking at Christmas lights on houses and going to see live nativity scenes wherever I can find them. But the childlike wonder seen through her eyes each Christmas season is gone and I truly miss that.

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  8. I remember when I believed in Santa, I always got excited on Christmas Eve, I can remember on Christmas morning waking up to see that Santa and his reindeers had eaten the cookies and celery we had left for them. I always wondered as a kid how Santa would come into the house to deliver our presents. When I was found out that Santa wasn’t real I remember being upset but now that I’m older, I see Christmas for what it really means. its not all about the presents, its simply about God and how he sacrificed his son’s life for us, and to me its about being with loved ones and family, sitting around and eating a lot of food, and watching the little ones who still believe in Santa open their presents. Let the little kids believe in Santa as long as they can!

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