Monday, December 12, 2011

Children and Santa Claus - good or bad?

This little commentary has been brewing in my mind for some time now. It was sparked when I overheard a very earnest young woman remark that she did not allow her children to believe in Santa Claus, because he was just a myth, and once her children found that out, she feared they would not believe anything else she told them. To her credit, she was particularly fearful that they would not believe what she told them about God.

Well, I thought, she has a point. And so began the "brewing" process in my mind. Was she right? It all sounded so logical, so I resolved to give it a good "think" and see where I ended up. Here it is.

In all honesty, however well-meaning she might have been, I believe she was wrong. First of all, I have my own experience as an example. I was told of Santa Claus, he left me gifts each Christmas morning, my grandfather pointed out what was probably a passing airplane in the night sky on Christmas Eve, and told me it was Santa's sleigh, and trust me, I was a believer! I got in an awful schoolyard fight in the first grade, with a smug little girl who laughed at me for believing. I think that awful child is still there, in the first grade, over sixty-five years later, and she's still trying to burst other children's Christmas bubbles. Why don't her parents sit on her?

Anyway, as a believer in Santa Claus, I can attest that when I finally grew old enough to reason it for myself, and knew that the old gent was not real, at least not in the physical sense, I do not recall that my faith in God ever wavered. It was never even a question in my mind. Santa is a lovely story told by parents to their children, to foster the wonder and joy of childhood. God is a real presence, the One who fills that God-shaped void we all have in our hearts. The results of His existence are all around us, in nature, in the magnificent skies and all that lies therein, in the tiny smile on the face of a sleeping baby, and in the love we feel in our hearts for our families and our friends. Oh yes, God is real, and children accept that as they grow older, if they are taught, just as easily as they accepted old Santa when they were little.

Let's examine Santa for a moment. Every child knows that Santa is all-seeing, all-knowing, and wise. They know he wants the child to be good and loving and kind, just like Santa himself. He loves us, unconditionally. Oh, he expects good behavior, but if a child repents on Christmas Eve and decides he will always be "good", he finds toys, not switches, under the tree on Christmas morning. Santa always offers a second chance.

So - along about the time that a child begins to realize that Santa is not physically real, in most cases he is beginning to hear references to God and if his parents are God-followers, he is being taught about the wonders of God, and the love He has for us. He is hearing about the greatest Gift of all, the Son of God, who was given by God and who indeed gave Himself for us, to atone for our sins, because perfection is not possible for us. We just can't do it in our human frailty, but God has offered us a second chance. He loves us that much.

Some children do not have parents who teach them about God, but there is still that God-shaped void in everyone's heart, that need that causes us to seek an answer. I once had the opportunity to counsel with a young woman who wanted so much to trust God, but because we refer to Him as our Father, and she had been raised by a cruel and abusive father, she just couldn't let go and trust. Finally, she said the words that gave me the clue, and God gave me the words to respond. She said she wished her father could have been different. I asked her what kind of father she wished he had been. She replied, "One who really loved me." I said, "Well, God is that Father that you dreamed of. You didn't have a proper earthly father, but God has been there all the time. He does love you. All you have to do is reach out and acknowledge Him, and He will be your Father from now on." It was the answer she needed, and I thank God for giving me that answer.

So, maybe old Santa isn't a villain, a destroyer of children's fantasies. Maybe he's a gentle introduction to the wonders of God's love, in a form a tiny child can understand. A toddler isn't going to understand much about God, but they sure do catch on to the Santa thing early on.

It's not hard to imagine a loving father or mother, with a questioning child on their lap, explaining that Santa is real, in the sense that love and kindness and generosity are real. They can tell how he represents the loving spirit of God, who is indeed very real. Just as Santa brings joy and fun into a child's life, God brings joy and peace and yes, even fun, into the lives of His children, and it makes Him happy when we are happy, and it pleases Him when we go out and try to do good for others, and love each other.

One more thing, and I think this fits in here somewhere. My beloved former pastor, who has now gone on to be with God, used to carry candy in his pockets all the time, little wrapped candies. When the children in the church would see him coming, they would run to him, waiting for a piece of candy. He always ruffled their hair, called them "little part-time angels" and listened to their little stories. He explained it to me once, when he said, "I figure if I can get them to love the messenger, maybe later on they'll listen to the message." That's how I see Santa. He's a messenger, a forerunner, a stage-setter. Children learn to love the spirit of Santa, and it's not hard to transfer that love to the very real Spirit of God, and to trust Jesus, the one Gift above all other gifts.

Merry Christmas!