Warning: This blog may offend. However, what I am about to suggest is not meant to attack Christians personally but merely challenge their beliefs. Afterall, what good is your faith if you don’t allow it to be tested? Friends (if you’re reading), please know that I respect you regardless of our differences.
With that said, Christmas is a time of wonder, a time for peace and goodwill toward others; it is the most joyous time of year (or so they say). Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a King. It is somehow also the time of year parents try not to go broke trying to put presents under the tree as we strive to keep the legend of Santa Claus alive.
Now, while there are those who are strictly opposed to teaching their kids to believe in Santa, and I understand their rationale, I happen to delight in the joy my children get from putting milk and cookies out (and carrots…they usually insist Santa have a balanced snack on his busiest night of the year). Kids get so frickin’ excited about Santa comin’ to town! It’s incredible to watch these little minds at work as they create a world in which one man, along with nine flying (yes, flying) reindeer (one with a light bulb for a nose bright enough to guide Santa’s sleigh in the dark) travels the entire globe in one evening, delivering presents to every home of every girl and boy. Security systems are no match for Santa. Neither are deadbolt locks. Santa’s preferred mode of entrance? A chimney. No chimney? No problem. Santa will just use his magic.
As kids begin to get a little older, however, they begin to think more logically about everything they grew up believing. How does one man make it to every house in the entire world in a single evening? How can his sleigh carry that many presents? If elves are responsible for making the presents Santa brings, how come they look just like the toys you find in the store (and sometimes have price tags stuck to the package)? Furthermore, how can Santa see everything that every kid does every second of every day to know whether they’ve been “naughty” or “nice”. Would Santa really deprive some poor kid for making a few poor choices? Etc. etc.
The reason I have supported my children’s belief in an immortal Santa Claus is not because I want to keep them in line with the threat of receiving nothing but coal in their stocking, but because kids’ imaginations are meant to be encouraged. And that’s what Christmas time does for them. As adults, we can relive those days when life was simpler and magic seemed possible. And that is because it is now our job as someone who has grown up to re-create the magic we felt as kids when we could hardly sleep the night before because the anticipation of Santa putting presents under the tree made it the most exciting day of the year. Knowing we could count on this one day allowed us to defer the gratification of having things our parents told us we couldn’t have throughout the year.
Indeed, children are told a myriad of tales to explain how presents mysteriously end up under the tree and under what conditions those presents get delivered (only to good girls and boys). What they aren’t told about Santa Claus is that he once truly existed as a Greek bishop in the third and fourth centuries and was known then as Saint Nicholas, a man who delivered gifts to children in need. And over centuries..centuries!..he has inspired various cultural interpretations of what has now become an international icon. The original St. Nick wasn’t really fat and jolly. He didn’t have a long, curly white beard. His stomach didn’t shake when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. But to every child in America, that is exactly what Santa looks like. In other parts of the world, while the memory of Saint Nicholas lives on, the traditions surrounding his legend are not always consistent with ours, nor is his image.
And so it seems the bishop Saint Nicholas who inspired an international holiday (named after him originally and celebrated on December 6th), and Jesus of Nazareth who put the Christ in Christmas, actually have a lot in common. Jesus, for example, was born in the Middle Eastern part of the world and yet, as Westerners, we insist he looked just like us (well, those of us with white skin). The images we see of Jesus Christ only reinforce this myth. But chances are (hate to break it to you) he actually looked very much like the people we’ve been at war with for decades (unless he was just a freak of nature?!) This, I’m sure, isn’t news to any of you. Surely, if you’re a believer in Christ, you’ve thought this one through. But what about the stories we’re told from the Bible and lessons we’re encouraged to believe? Is it possible that while once based on true, historical events, so much of what Christianity is founded on today is nothing but a constantly evolving, retelling of stories originally meant to uplift and inspire, to offer hope and provide an explanation for our existence and the world around us? After all, the stories surrounding Santa have only become more elaborate and detailed over the years and no longer mirror Saint Nicholas, an historical figure, but are rather based on fantasy and trickery.
One of these fantastical tales children are told is that if they’re not good, Santa will put them on his naughty list. Yikes! No kid wants to be on that list because it means they won’t get any presents at Christmas time. And every kid wants presents. Heck, even I want presents. Who doesn’t love presents? So believing that there is an actual list on which Santa keeps track of this information is usually enough to keep kids in line. It’s pretty easy to get them to do what you want when you take away their chance of getting toys. I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes, though I don’t employ such tactics with my own children. That’s too much pressure for a kid. I’d rather my children learn to make good choices not because of what they’ll gain materially, but how it will impact themselves and others. Perfection isn’t attainable for any adult I know. Why should it be expected of kids?
When you tell kids about Santa’s lists, they will eventually start to ask how Santa could possibly know whether they’ve been naughty or nice. So grown ups have come up with a simple answer: SANTA SEES EVERYTHING YOU DO. He sees you when you’re sleeping (creepy!), he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good… AND he’s not only watching you, but he’s watching every other girl and boy, every second of every day. WOW. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yeah, well so does the existence of a big man in the sky looking down on all of us “sinners” and keeping track of our discretions.
Supposedly, Jesus makes note of the “naughty” and “nice”, too (naughty being defined as anyone who doesn’t confess him as their God). But his list is written in the ‘Lamb’s Book of Life’. And if your name isn’t in that book, may God have mercy on your soul. Do you know what having your name in that book does?!? It gets you into heaven. Heaven!! Who doesn’t want to go to heaven?!
This seems to make heaven out to be some kind of exclusive night club that only the most distinguished guests can enter. There’s probably a dress code. I hate those places. Of course, in order to make heaven a place where people would want to go, you have to create a place opposite of everything heaven is promised to be. And it has to be governed by an entity who is strictly opposed to the Ruler of Heaven. That place is hell and that being is Satan.
Santa Claus has an adversary, as well. His name is Krampus. Krampus was derived from alpine folklore dating back to the 17th century. He is often depicted as an atrocious horned beast with a long monstrous tongue, though other frightening images of him also exist. He is responsible for dealing with all of the naughty children, providing them with lashings, throwing them in his satchel and taking them through a tour of hell where he devours them, among other horrible things. Can you imagine a parent who would want to put these types of ideas into their child’s head? No wonder you don’t hear much about Krampus anymore. It’s not even real and yet people have used the threat of this hideous beast to hang over children’s heads to scare them into behaving. Is this sounding familiar?
Agreeably, the real Saint Nicholas did a lot of good in his day. And so did Jesus. I will not dispute that. But the truth of who these men were is hardly known to us. The magical powers we have bestowed upon them reflects less about them and more about some hidden agenda people picked up along the way that the rest of us just never stop to question. For centuries Christmas was controversial even among the faithful. It was considered to be a Pagan holiday, so Puritans refused to join in its celebration and it was even banned for part of the 17th century in places like Boston and England. It wasn’t until Charles Dickens came along in the age of the Victorians with his story, A Christmas Carol that people began to accept Christmas as a time of goodwill and merriment; a time to spend with loved ones and feast until their seams came unstitched. Imagine that, a story teller has been credited for helping to define Christmas as we know it.
Oh by the way, it’s been posited that Jesus wasn’t even born on December 25th. In fact, the Bible doesn’t ever mention a date. Historians and scholars place his actual birth somewhere closer to April 17 (6 BC), though no one really knows for sure. And according to the Bible, he may not have even been born in a manger. The book of Matthew recounts an alternate version of Jesus’ birth, or at least one that’s never been popularized. But what’s one more lie going to hurt the Christian faith?