There’s a rumor Santa Claus may be at church this Sunday, so my weekly church email newsletter this week is about Santa Claus.
I’m full of conspiracy theories this time of year. I preached about (and wrote in the December newsletter about) The Advent Conspiracy, where people conspire with each other to drop out of the holiday rush of buying and spending in order to spend more time with loved ones, make gifts, spend less, do community service and work on their spiritual life. This week, I want to tell you about my other favorite holiday conspiracy – Santa Claus.
I believe in Santa Claus.
Santa, otherwise known as Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Christ Kind, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle. You know, the portly jolly old elf in the red suit. Stay with me here. You do, too. Like many things about Christmas, the important thing about Santa Claus isn’t the historical fact, but the symbolic truth. We know that Santa Claus and all his other cultural representations trace back to the Christian bishop Nicholas of Myra (in what is now Turkey). For more info on the historical Saint Nick see this website.
Yes, Santa Claus has become wrapped up in (sorry for the pun) the Christmas treadmill of gift giving and shopping and presents, but he is not a corporate shill or icon of a consumer Christmas. Remember, Santa doesn’t BUY anything, he makes all his gifts in a workshop at the North pole where he employees unionized elves who have impeccable work conditions, great pay, and excellent benefits.
And some would implicate Santa Claus in dividing children (and others) into “good” people and “bad” people, but this is more a construct of an old song about making lists and checking it twice. Santa knows we are all “naughty” at times and “nice” most of the time. Santa can’t stand the Elf on the Shelf and in reality, like the Saint Nicholas of his origin, he’s a universalist and believes in the inherent dignity and worth of all people, especially children.
Dismissing Santa Claus, and the Christmas story itself, is for people with small imaginations. The famous editorial Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus by Frank Church in the New York Sun speaks of this.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”
Santa Claus is, if nothing else, a symbol of our best selves – caring, loving, giving, and inclusive (he visits every child in the world, no less). Some have undertaken a logical and philosophical approach to the reality of Santa Claus, proving his existence with Aristotelian logic as the “prime giver” and first giver of gifts.
“ We see that in the world that Christmas gifts are given and received. Whoever, then, gives Christmas gifts either receives them from another or makes them in his workshop. If, however, no one makes Christmas gifts in his workshop, they are not given nor received. Therefore it is necessary to posit some first giver of Christmas gifts, who everyone calls Santa Claus.” See Aquinas Online for the full syllogism.
As Unitarian Universalists, we put less emphasis and importance in beliefs than on action; that our beliefs don’t matter much if we don’t walk the talk and live them out in our daily lives. Thus, our challenge, is not to merely believe in Santa Claus, but to BE Santa Claus, to act as Santa would.
My friend and colleague, Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, explains how she and her husband raised their children, not only to believe in Santa Claus, but to join the conspiracy and BE Santa Claus for others.
Santa Claus is not just a person, but a way of being. A way we evolve and live into our best, most ultruistic selves. Here’s a summary of how Rev. Crawford explains it (for her entire essay click here.
Level One Santa – … is about believing there’s a guy in a red suit who lives at the north pole, has elves to help him out, and uses a sleigh pulled by reindeer to slide down chimneys and deliver gifts all the children in the world on Christmas Eve.
Level Two Santa – When young people reach an age where they see logic gaps in actually going down a chimney and getting all over the world in a single night, they reach the most important decision of Santahood – to either give it up or continue as a Level Two Santa. Level Two Santas join the conspiracy of Santa “that Santa is SO much bigger than you imagined” and help keep alive the magic and wonder for others by playing along and having fun with the idea of Santa as they get ready to BE Santa as level threes and fours. You can skip right to level four or attain them both at the same time.
Level Three Santa – This is when you take the step up from joining in the conspiracy to making to being Santa for young people in your life – your children, nieces and nephews, children you teach or coach.
Level Four Santa – You take the step into level four of the Santa Conspiracy when you become Santa for people who are not necessarily part of your family and friendship circle, perhaps a lonely neighbor, a co-worker, a stranger, an anonymous person or child from an organized effort to connect level fours to people in need.
Level Five is being a living example of Santa, an incarnation, an embodiment of the spirit by being a level three and four year round, every year. Sometimes level fives wear a beard and put on the suit, and say Ho! Ho! Ho!
Rev. Crawford says the question isn’t if someone is too old for Santa, but when is someone old enough – to become part of the conspiracy of love, kindness, and compassion.
So, if you happen to see Santa Claus around the church in the coming days, remember that the old elf just maybe a Level Five!