Author’s Note: this is a minor revision and update of a post I wrote for FPR back in 2010.
I like Santa Claus. He is not real, but he has spiritual significance for me. In this way, Santa is like Job. I do not think that Job was a real person, but I do think that Job is one of of the most powerful books of the Bible. Symbolic meaning sometimes has the greatest impact.
Watching A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version…of course), I realized that, for me, Santa Clause is the Ghost of Christmas Present. Now, I am not an expert on Dickens as a literary figure, but I have always loved this story and I have grown to appreciate it even more in recent years.
The Ghost of Christmas Present (GCP) focuses on two things: the merriment which we have as family and friends at during the holidays. This is symbolized by the joy which nephew Fred has with his wife and friends. It is also symbolized by the joy which the Cratchit family has despite the their poverty and worry about tiny Tim. Yet, they are together.
I love the social part of Christmas. I ALSO LOVE THE PRESENTS! I love watching my children open their presents. I love going out with my wife in November and December looking for gifts that will be perfect for our three children. Like my daughter Geneva (7), I am also very excited about seeing family in Utah between after Christmas Day.
The GCP also draws attention to those who are suffering. Not only are they suffering at Christmas, they are suffering while Scrooge has much. He also introduces this suffering to Scrooge to show the cruelty of his own comments about the poor and disadvantaged. Ebenezer Scrooge is the embodiment of 19th century Social Darwinism. Christmas is the cure for this vile outlook. For me, the Santa part of Christmas is as much part of that cure as the religious part of Christmas.
What does this all have to do with Santa? Santa Claus is the symbol of holiday cheer and giving. While he has become the symbol of Christmas consumerism, it is not Santa Claus that is the problem. Our society is the problem. It is our greed that is the problem. If we make Christmas about others, then we can make Christmas…and Santa…a force for fighting against that greed.
Santa has also been given the God role of deciding who is good and who is bad. I reject this view of Santa…much in the way that I reject this view of God. I have no interest in making Santa an all knowing figure who may condemn us with coal in our stocking. Even if it is Wyoming coal.
Like the story of Job, I think that the meaning and principles, not the myth itself, is what we should preserve. The best part about my children getting older is that the older ones now get to be part of the fun. They know that Santa does not come down the chimney (good thing…we do not have a chimney). However, they now realize the joys that can come from being Santa in the lives of others…particularly their little sister.
In reclaiming Santa, we can reclaim faith in sense of community and faith which binds us together at what is a cold and difficult time of the year. He is about giving to family and friends, He is about connecting with our fellow humans. Now we could probably do these things without the symbol of Santa Claus, but I think that symbols are useful in bringing us together. They are also worth fighting for.
Who will you be this year? Ebenezer Scrooge or Santa Claus?
Does Santa distract from the Christian themes of Christmas? If you fight for the Cratchits and the family living under the viaduct, you understand Him who came. That is what Santa Claus does. That is what Jesus Christ has taught us to do. Go and do likewise.