It was the mid 80s when I first noticed something was amiss with Santa Claus. You might remember that’s when Band Aid released the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” They still play it all the time, today…I hear it probably twice a day during December every year. My kids are like, what is this? This isn’t a Christmas song! And I struggle to explain how it kind of is, but not really.
Anyway, it was the mid-80s and I had already lost any belief in Santa as a real person, but I hadn’t thought much about the concept of Modern Commercial Santa. Until I heard lyrics like these:
But say a prayer, Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
In my bubble of normal American life, and just being a kid, I had no clue there was a world of pain out there. And I thought how unfair it is that Santa would visit me but not them.
And so was the beginning of the end of my love affair with Santa.
I still went on to love the Christmas season, the wonder of it, the anticipation, the lights, all of it. But there was always a lingering doubt about our affections for this Santa who visits the wealthy and forgets the poor.
As a Christian I know I’m called to help the poor, needy and broken. I believe that if I am blessed financially it’s not just so I can feel comfortable and happy, but rather I have been given resources to use on behalf of others, beginning with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Then, beyond them, to the ones I’m given the opportunity to help.
This is also why I hate the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants to give me my best life right now, including wealth, big houses and cars, and whatever other luxuries I want.
That’s just a gross misinterpretation of Scripture, which many American pastors have exported around the world. It’s an embarrassment. My thought has been if it doesn’t work, or hold true, in Africa it doesn’t work at all. It’s not the gospel.
But, I digress. I’m about to rant.
My beef with this false gospel is the same beef I have with Santa. Both seem to exist to bless those who are already blessed. Those that behave just right (Santa is watching, you know). Those who already have money.
Both have been hijacked.
The true story of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, is one of generosity and Christian love and compassion. He was a bishop in Turkey in the 4th century who was very wealthy because his parents, who died when he was young, left him a lot of money. He was known for giving to the poor and giving secret gifts to people in need. He was later exiled and imprisoned during the persecution by Diocletian.
That’s a far cry from a fat guy flying a reindeer-powered sleigh, delivering toys to the kids on the nice list, who also happen to be able to afford it, while the poor are forgotten.
Therefore, we’ve never made Santa a big deal at our house. We’ve never told them he’s real. I still love the old movies, the new movies (Elf is a must!), we sing the songs, but it’s purely for the fun of it. You should also know that I’ve warned them repeatedly that if they tell any of their friends he isn’t real, if they burst someone’s bubble, they are in SO MUCH TROUBLE.
I’m not for making decisions on behalf of anyone else’s family, or spoiling your fun. I promise. I don’t judge your decision to play the Santa game – that’s how I explain it to the kids. It’s just a personal conviction based upon where my heart is. I just can’t do it, but respect whatever decision your family makes.
I still struggle with wanting to bless the socks off my kids with more stuff than they need. But that’s not what they’ll remember. I hope they’ll remember our time together as a family and our time spent reading the true Christmas story during advent.
I hope they pick up, even a little, each year how loved they are, and how humble their Jesus is, who entered the world as a baby and left as a lamb.