NOTE TO PARENTS: If your kids are nearby, STOP READING!
I remember it well. The first time my kid called me a liar.
I was rushing around the house, trying to get a bunch of chores done before my wife arrived home from a trip and saw the chaos that reigns while she’s away. You know what I mean. Kids wearing underwear on their heads. Soggy paper boats clogging the bathroom sink.
Anyhow, my three-year-old stopped me as I was half-way out the front door and asked, “Daddy, come look at this picture!”
I replied, “One second, Jake. I just have to get something out of the car.”
I walked to the driveway, opened the door, reached into the console, and retrieved my wallet. As I approached the house, my son stood in the doorway, boiling with a white-hot rage that had previously been reserved only for that little plastic bubble thingy that forcibly sucks snot out of a toddler’s nose. As soon as I stepped over the threshold, his eyes pierced my soul as he shouted.
“Daddy! You said it would only be one second! You left... and I counted to ONE… and YOU WEREN’T BACK! You’re a LIAR!”
So, after calming him down with a well-timed cookie, I did my best to explain the concept of a “figure of speech” to his tiny mind. This proved only slightly more difficult than explaining how “yesterday, today, and tomorrow” works. I might as well have just read him a bedtime story from a textbook on quantum physics. Let’s face it, some things are just too hard to explain to children. Especially the intangible. So, I left the conversation vowing to stick with the truth.
Which makes me a HUGE liar. Because I break this vow. All. The. Time. And, unless you are one of the rare breed who sucks all the fun out of childhood, you probably do, too.
Forget for a moment all of our poor relationship choices, or those college memories that remain hidden behind a haze of smoke and suds. We all know to keep those stories a secret until the right emergency presents itself, like a proposed elopement at age seventeen, or being on the receiving end of their one phone call during an overnight stay in the pokey.
No, I’m talking about the lies we tell on a regular basis. The tooth fairy. The Easter Bunny. Most of us parents create these fibs as a way to maintain the magic in a childhood that is becoming shorter and shorter with every generation. The same holds true for that damned Elf on a Shelf that doesn’t actually stay on a shelf but miraculously moves every 24 hours like an escaped convict.
We tend to keep these charades alive until the first genuine inquiry from our offspring, when we spill the beans and tell the truth. Once they back us into a corner, we sheepishly tell them that these things aren’t real, but are traditions to add a bit of wonder and majesty to life (the fairy and the bunny) and encourage good behavior (the elf).
But what about Santa?
For some reason, I think of the Santa differently. I shamelessly stuff the jolly fat man into a box wrapped in half-truths and lies. Over the years, my kids have let their subtle curiosities slip. “Daddy? How does Santa go around the whole world in one night?” or “ Why does all Santa’s stuff come wrapped in the same boxes I see in the store?” And the biggie, “Is Santa real?” So far, my wife and I have gotten away with dodging the question by asking “What do you think?” or making up our own White Christmas lies to explain the magic and avoid further inquiry.
And each time I do this, I wonder if it’s a Christmas cop-out. I mean, if this Holiday is supposed to be about Jesus, then why do I as a Christian need Santa Claus? Isn’t the Savior of the World enough?
Apparently, I’m not the only one asking the question. If you search the web about the belief in Santa, you will find that some parents choose not to “do Santa” at all, for very spiritual reasons. For some, it’s about not wanting to lie to their kids (Don’t bear false witness). For others, it’s about placing the focus on Christ during this church season. Still more see that the Holiday actually has pagan roots, and is a sin, even going as far to note the common anagram for Santa is SATAN.
All of these people have solid (if not Grinchy) reasoning for dumping Kris Kringle. Some argue that it’s best not to even start the tradition, believing that if they lift the veil on the Santa secret, their kids start to question everything else?
Are we really safe in our house?
Will mommy and daddy always be here for me?
Is there really a God?
So what do we do? Especially those of us who are already a hundred miles down the Santa interstate? My kids are now eight and nine, so they probably know more than they are letting on. And I expect they will ask me again soon enough. So, what will I say when they ask me if Santa is just a made up thing?
I’ll tell them the God’s honest truth.
Santa is a real guy. Just like Jesus.
And that’s no lie.
According to those who spend their days researching this sort of thing, he was actually a man named Nicolas, born sometime in the late third century in the region now known and Greece and Turkey. His family was very wealthy. Unfortunately, his parents died when he was young, leaving him their inheritance. Rather than hoard it all for himself, he followed Jesus’ words to the letter to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”
Throughout his life, Nicolas used his entire fortune to help the needy, sick and suffering, eventually becoming Bishop of Myra. He was no rock star in a traditional sense, but Bishop Nicolas became known throughout the land for his uncommon generosity, his undying love for children, and his concern for the safety of sailors and ships.
But, not everyone thought he was such a great guy. He also suffered greatly for his faith. He was persecuted and exiled by Roman Emperor Diocletian for his deep, unwavering devotion to a higher calling.
Sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it?
While St. Nicolas was not the Son of God. He was a child of God in the truest sense. A man who walked this earth, yet seemed to be of another world. A man who dedicated his life to serving others. A man who kept nothing of his power and stature for himself, yet poured it out on others, washing us in kindness and compassion. Filled with joy. Doing good “for goodness’ sake.”
And nothing more.
Yes, some things are just too hard to explain. Especially the intangible.
This kind of selflessness is seldom seen. But thanks to Nicolas, we now have a compass to guide us. So every year, our Santa tradition shows us what being Jesus looks like. Christ in our midst. Tirelessly working for the benefit of others. And for a brief moment each December, we pour ourselves out to friends and strangers through acts of service and generous gifts. It’s a beautiful thing. All fueled by an inner warmth of peace and joy, buried deep within for many months of the year, but now visible.
The light of Christ, finally tangible and accessible.
So when my kids ask if Santa is real, I will tell them this story without a hint of disappointment or remorse in my voice. No, this will be a joyful revelation. That they have experienced Christ’s love in the form of a beautiful tradition. That it’s time we make them part of this not-so-secret club. A hapless band of Christians that has finally experienced enough of this selfless giving that we can now be the magic makers for others. Unseen. Unheard. Spreading Christ’s love in tangible, human form. Face to face. Flesh to flesh. Human to human.
And then I will ask:
What is your gift?
Where is your chimney?
And who will receive this spirit you bring?
The choice is yours.
For Goodness’ sake.
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