The Christmas conundrum: To allow Santa or to not allow Santa, that is the question.
Of all the things that divide Christians, this has to be one of the most seasonal controversies. Along with Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas, whether or not to sing Christmas carols in the worship services, etc., this one appears for one month of the year (possibly two, if you begin Christmas festivities before the Thanksgiving turkey is properly digested), disappears for eleven months, and then reappears, just as contentious as before.
Frankly, I’m ambivalent. I’m neither pro-Santa or anti-Santa. My parents believed that it would be too damaging if they lied to me and pretended Santa was real. So I never did the Santa photo or cookie plate on Christmas Eve or had presents under the tree labelled from Santa. Besides, I was terrified of the Santa in the mall. Go sit on a stranger’s lap and smile? Little Laura burst into tears at the thought. (This also applied to the Easter bunny, scary Halloween costumes, and handling Fourth of July sparklers. I was an overly sensitive child, okay?)
My husband and I haven’t had Santa with our daughters, either. Neither of us grew up with it, so we didn’t have cherished family traditions surrounding the guy in the red suit. Why bother?
Recently, I read a blog post on the subject. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read anything else on that blog, nor do I know the authors’ views on any other subject.) The author writes,
“Every part of Christmas, Team Jesus or Team Santa, can be grossly misused. There is no escape from the distracted desires of our heart, even on Christmas. It’s not as simple as choosing a side. In truth, Santa and Jesus are not at war. Rather, we are just a little confused. Our culture has lost the virtue of a fairy tale.” –Cindy Koch (emphasis mine)
That last line reminded me of a quote from G. K. Chesterton:
Fairytales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
Immediately, I thought of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At the beginning of this fantasy (Lewis called it a fairy tale), the White Witch has captured Narnia under her spell. She makes it always winter and never Christmas.
However, as the human children enter the world, another, more powerful person is at work: Aslan. The lion: wild but good, self-sacrificing and all-powerful, fierce but forgiving. When he is on the move, the White Witch’s spell begins to break. The snow melts. Frozen rivers thaw. New life springs from the ground.
And Christmas happens.
Three of the children meet Father Christmas, who arrives in his sleigh, Santa-style. But like John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Christ, he is also heralding the arrival of someone greater than himself.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”
Then he gives them gifts. They are tools, not toys, he cautions, and must be used wisely. A sword for Peter, who will soon be leading an army in battle. A quiver of arrows, bow, and horn for Susan, who will need to call for help. A bottle of healing cordial and a dagger for Lucy, who will care for the wounded.
(Clearly, Father Christmas hasn’t gotten the message that his presents are supposed to be the fun, plastic-entangled, batteries not included, difficult-to-wrap toys advertised in shop windows.)
Father Christmas isn’t at war with Aslan. These gifts aren’t for their own self-advancement or pleasure. They will be used to serve Aslan as he defeats the evil corrupting his beloved Narnia.
This fairy tale tells the readers
- that good will overcome evil,
- That Christmas isn’t about presents or merry-making but about the arrival of Aslan, the Jesus figure,
- That the children will be given the tools they need to fight the White Witch,
and most importantly,
that it will take the self-sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan to totally defeat evil. A bloody, violent death. A glorious, unexpected resurrection. That’s what it will take to atone for wrong. At times the outcome seems uncertain and the children fear that the Witch has won and her evil will destroy Narnia for good.
At times, I, too, despair of the world around me: violence and division, hedonism and nihilism, abuse and ignorance. I feel ill-equipped to fight it. I wonder when God is going to step in and save the day.
And then I remember that he already did.
That is a gift more glorious than anything Santa or another person can put under the Christmas tree.
Evil will be defeated.
Good will reign.
Let’s focus on that this holiday season.