"Mom, *someone* told me that Santa only comes to your house if you are good. But he doesn't come to my house. That's because my brother and I are such bad children."
I can promise you that hurt. Like a punch to the stomach. Enough to make me think hard again: Why is it that Santa doesn't come to our house?
It's not that I have a problem with the magic or the pretend play. There's something sweet about a child pretending that there are elves in the woods or genies in bottles. There's a willingness in kids to believe beyond their sight. There is a way that faith-filled-ness seems to be their natural pose and maybe that's just as it should be - belief in the unreal giving eyes to later tell reality from fantasy and letting them see just how much fantasy is really reality. I mean, the greatest fairy-tale ever told is 100% true and maybe our play as children opens our eyes wide enough to believe the truest wonders of the world. No, it's not the magic that's the problem. We can play that a fairy puts quarters under his pillow and he is free to read and play Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to his hearts content.
The problem, for me, is this: there is this lie out there that all of us have bought into to some extent. This lie that says, "all you need is more. More time. More money. More clothes. More toys. More space. More opportunity. More is what will make you happy. More! More! More!" And, honestly, I can't help but feeling that this lie is extremely dangerous. And I can't help but think that I need to make sure my kiddos have the opportunity to see the truth.
And it's not Santa's fault, really. Except that I think maybe Santa, good chap that he was, has been turned into something else. I mean, all those Whoos down in Whooville may have Christmas just the same without packages, boxes or bags. But I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be our response. I think maybe we'd all cry boo-hoo! It's not Santa's fault. It's because of that lie, but oh boy can't Santa play right into the hands of that lie if we'll let him.
See, my kids have watched the ads and they are getting the message loud and clear. My Cap has a memory and he can tell you word for word the Orange Julius commercial playing right now. But, more than that, he can tell you that he NEEDS a smoothie because smoothies are great and when you put something great inside you, you become great too. (Maybe there is a lesson in that.) That smoothie isn't something he wants - it's something he needs.
And he's watched that mouse riding a skateboard. It seemed friendly enough. All it did was tell us that being physically active is a good thing. (And that Chuck-E-Cheese's is "where a kid can be a kid.") And that friendly little mouse has my son convinced that we need to take every penny we have, empty out all of our piggy banks and savings accounts and head on over to Chuck-E-Cheese's. Why does he want to go? He has no idea. None. He just knows that CEC is a place you go and take your money. He just knows its what the tv told him to do. They didn't even show him all of the games and the pizza and the prizes. He wants to be there because he somehow picked up on the message that "if you bring us your money we'll make you happy." And someday I'll get up the patience to brave Chuck-E-Cheese's with my boy and if he wants to spend every dime in his little piggy bank I will let him. And he will have a blast, I'm sure. And it will be good. But we'll also be doing a lot of talking. Because the idea that you can give someone money and they will sell you happiness is a complete and dangerous lie.
And I've heard him buy into the same lie with Santa. "I will be so good and I will ask Santa for every toy I've ever wanted and he will bring it to me." Ah, but that's not how it works, my boy. And even if "Santa" wanted to give you ever material thing your heart could desire, he can't. Your desires are so big that they can't be filled with all of the stuff in the world. And here's the thing: I used to want to give my kids every material thing they could wish for. The coolest toys in abundance. All the clothes. All the opportunities. Any thing they could ever possibly want and so much more.
That scripture went around in my head as I battled. Yes, I want my kids to be kind and giving and not overly consumed with stuff, yet
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" - Luke 11:11-13And I told myself, "See, we're supposed to give good gifts." And I let the lie distort my vision and all of a sudden I thought truth was telling me that I should be giving my kids the things they want. But isn't the truth that I should give my kids the things they need? Is it possible that, sometimes, when I give them just what they ask for I am really just handing over a snake. If my kid comes to me and says he's really hungry do I hand over a candy bar or do I give him something to nourish? If my kid falls and breaks a bone (an experience I hope we never deal with) do I give him a band-aid or take him to the hospital? They might prefer the candy bar. They might prefer the band-aid. But what they need is nourishment. What they need is healing. And it would be horrible of me to offer anything less than what they need.
And I think maybe the same is true of all this stuff - of all this more. They come to me thinking they want this new toy or all of these shining, glistening things on the shelf at the store. But, often that's not what they really want. I know because all of those things they thought they needed have sat forgotten and unplayed with on shelves and I've heard them say, "It wasn't as good as I thought it would be." (Once he was dead set that he wanted a game where a dog poops and you clean it up. Honestly? I can't bring myself to buy that. Maybe it's a good game. I've never played it. But there just seems to me something kinda wacky about the idea that we would pay other people so we can pretend we are picking up dog poop...) And it's funny, but it's also really serious. I can and do buy my kids stuff. They have toys that they love - their own little velveteen rabbits that are worn real. And it's good. But when I pile up the stuff at some point I am in danger of giving a snake when I mean to give bread. At some point I am in danger of telling them that the lie is true. That more will make them happy.
But I've seen what more does to them. How they mass up mounds of toys at Christmas and birthdays and get so overwhelmed with all the stuff that they don't even know what to do with it. They walk around with a toy in their hands, never really playing. Just carrying it until they see another toy they'd like to carry. And they fight with each other, like the one who is interested in the toy they were previously holding has just made the most inhumane of threats against their very existence. And it's so ugly.
And I've heard what the lie has done to our society. I've heard how since the 1950's our nation has had more than ever before. We've been filthy rich (and I mean just about all of us, middle class included) and the richer we've gotten the unhappier we've been. The suicide rate in our nation has increased astronomically since the 50s. The more hasn't made us happier. It's made us desperate - despair-ing. We bought into the lie that the more could satisfy and it just hasn't and where can we go to have this all-absorbing desire filled? (I know where!)
So, maybe it's extreme. Certainly it's odd. But, Santa doesn't come to our house. And, please believe me, I'm not making any judgment on you if he does come to yours. This is just how I know to hold that lie at bay. Because I can't stand to see the obsenity of more ushered into my house at the same time we celebrate the birth of one who gave up everything. I can't handle the mile long wish lists or the cataloges with every single thing circled as I am trying to prepare my heart for the advent of one who tells us not to worry about stuff, the one who tells us that the more we have the harder it is for us to see the truth, the one who gives to us so abundantly and commands us to make sure that we take care of those who do not have the same resources we have. It's enough to break my heart, that juxtaposition. One with power to create the universe lying as a helpless, completely dependent infant in a manger in a stable. One with power to make the guards and the pharisees and the priests stop and bow before him, but choosing instead to let them spit and taunt and nail and kill. He has given everything and promised everything and all I ask for is more of what the world has to offer. All I ask for is a snake when he would give me bread!
See, it doesn't cost anything for Santa to bring gifts. He just loads all of those goodies up on his sleigh and drops them down the chimney. And if there is no cost, surely we can just keep asking for more and more and more. And more is a lie. A lie that I want my kids to see straight through. I want them to see because I don't want them to be trapped in that lie, thinking more is the answer and missing out on the truth which is a million times better. Less is more and everything is ours in Christ.
So, what do I tell my little ones about Santa?
That Santa is a story. A story based on a true story. A legend. Once upon a time, there was a man named Nicholas. Nicholas was a saint, someone who was in love with Jesus and someone who asked Jesus what he should be doing with his life. Nicholas, the saint, was wealthy. He had been given much and he knew that what he had been given wasn't for his use alone. He knew that he was to share with people who did not have. He knew that he was free to share all he had because Jesus had already given all of himself and God raised him up and gave him more to give and Nicholas knew that God would always give him more than enough too.
Nicholas loved God and trusted God and he gave to other people not because it made him feel good, but because that love God had given him couldn't be bottled up. He had to share that love. So, Saint Nicholas, with the life full of overflowing love saw these people that had a need.
There was this family. They didn't have any money. In fact, they owed other people a lot of money. And, in those days, if you couldn't pay with money you had to pay with something else. And since this man didn't have any money, the people he owed were going to take something else from him instead - his daughters. His daughters would become slaves of other people so that the family's debt would be cancelled.
Nicholas knew that this was horrible and he knew that he had to help them, but he wanted it to be a secret. You see, Nicholas didn't want these people to think he was the one they should be thankful to for their freedom. Because it wasn't really Nicholas's money that was paying their debt. Nicholas knew that God had given him that money and that God wanted him to save those girls. No, it wasn't Nicholas who was doing the saving. It was God who was doing the saving and he was letting Nicholas help.
So Nicholas snuck to their house in secret. The girls had their socks hanging out of the window to dry. Sounds silly, I know, but they didn't have clothes dryers then. Nicholas took some money, enough to buy their freedom, and stuck it down in their socks so they would find the money when they put on their socks in the morning. The family's debt was paid and the girls were free.
So, today, we remember St. Nicholas. Sometimes we call him Santa. Over the years the story of St. Nicholas has been told over and over again. And sometimes people changed the story a bit here and there. They added in fun things like a toy factory and elves and cookies and sleighs. And we give gifts and sometimes we pretend they are from Santa and we do lots of special things for other people and pretend that we are being Santa.
But no matter how much fun we have playing about Santa Claus, it's important that we remember why St. Nicholas gave. St. Nicholas gave to others because he loved God and he knew God wanted him to share that love. And we can give for the same reason too. We can let God's love fill us up so much that it pours out for other people.
And, here's the secret. All of the kids who believe in Santa will one day find out that it wasn't really Santa putting the presents under the tree and in their stockings and then they might think that Santa isn't real.
But, I want you to know the truth.
Santa is real!
St. Nicholas was a living, breathing person who really walked and really talked and really loved God. He spent his life working in churches helping other people see God. And one day, when Nicholas was old, he died. But we know that death is not the end. And one day Jesus will make this old, broken world new and shiny and then you could meet St. Nicholas. Maybe you will really get to sit on the real Santa's lap. That's the truth. Now isn't that a better story?