With the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God, of His birth into the world in the stable at Bethlehem, outcast of the world, heralded by rejoicing angels, visited by shepherds, Christ the Lord, come to save His people from their sins, on December the 25th – or indeed, on any other day of the year – I have no issue. I think it is rather beautiful and good, than otherwise. Neither have I any issue with Saint Nicholas, though about him, if you are interested, you can learn from another source – I have no concern with him in this article. It is with the popular story of Santa Claus with which I take issue, a story I shall now present, in its barest form, so all may know of what I speak.
Santa Claus is a fellow – generally conceived of as big, fat, and jolly, with a reindeer-drawn sled, though these details are beside the point – who is known for giving gifts to good children on Christmas Day. If you are a good child, Santa Claus will give you Christmas Presents. If you are a bad child, you are much more likely to get a chunk of coal.
This story, considered as a story, is not a Christmas story. With the ethics of telling it to children as a true story, and whether this qualifies as a forbidden lie, I am not here concerned, and about that issue I here make no claims. The story, in its character, in its moral, in its thrust, in its worldview, is opposed to the story of Jesus. The story of Santa Claus is all full of the stench and thinking of the world, considered not as the good creation of the Blessed Trinity, but as the system of evil and corruption. It is about superficial reward for superficial well-behavior and superficial punishment for superficial ill-behavior, a message quite against the message of Christmas.
Christmas, however, is about Christ. It is about how God sent His Son, who is God Himself, to be born a human baby, so that He could return to humans the share in His Divine Childhood which they had lost by the Fall and by the rebellion of each. It is about the humility and grandness of God. It does not feature a round, jolly old man who gives out presents every year, but a King so glorious and grand that the radiance of His messenger of peace and goodwill is such that the shepherds on the hills are struck with terror, who takes the form of one of His own subjects and is born in poverty and obscurity – and this King will one day be sentenced to death as an impostor and rebel against His own majesty, by those claiming to be His servants! Christmas is not about little gifts for good children and coal for bad ones, but about the King of Kings coming to suffer the hardships His rebellious subjects have imposed on themselves by rebelling against His goodness, so that He might reconcile these enemies to Himself. It is about God giving us, who have been bad and do not deserve to be called sons, yes, do not even deserve be made servants of His household, His very life as a gift. Christmas is about the gift which God gives to us – the life, human and Divine, of Jesus, who is fully God and fully Man, which is summed up in the one mystery of His Cross and Resurrection, in which we all must share, if we are to share His Sonship, receive His Spirit of adoption.
What have Christmas and Santa Claus in common?
Even if you do find a way to try and pretend there is something Christian about the Santa Claus story, it will only blaspheme the true Christmas story and insult Jesus. It both denies and trivializes grace, and it both denies and trivializes the Cross, and it both denies and trivializes God. Indeed, this association of Santa Claus with the birth of Jesus the Lord perhaps gets at the heart of the half of the problem with Christianity in the United States of America and whatever else is left of the “Christian West.” People think of God as like to Santa Claus. Indeed, children are taught, from when they are just toddlers, by the association of Santa Claus with the birth of Jesus, as well as in ten thousand different ways, that there is no King of Love, but only a big soft man up in the clouds who gives gifts to good people and punishments to bad ones – in other words, that God is the weakest, the flimsiest, the most transparent of fairytales – for there are fairytales which are a glimpse, true enough in its own right, into the reality of things! No wonder many of them become atheists mocking Christianity as all about a sky-daddy, and that just as many of them remain sitting in “churches” caring not for Jesus, mocking, without even noticing that they do so, the very idea of offering themselves to Him as living sacrifices – indeed, able to say those words, without meaning anything, and also without noticing that they do not mean anything! Innocent of the blood of the Son of God, which daily they trample underfoot of their callousness and disregard, they may not be, but quite guilty, yet, “they know not what they do.”
Copyright 2019 Raina Nightingale