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.