Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here Comes Santa Claus

          When my granddaughter was six or seven, (she is now fifteen), she asked me the strangest question for a six or seven year old. I was her "Nan" at the time. I have always been her "Nan", am now, and always will be, but at the time I was really her "Nan" the way I am Kiley's "Nan" now, her daily caregiver and one of the people she counted on to supply her with everything she needs. She asked me, "If someone commits murder can they be redeemed?"

        My initial reaction was something along the lines of, "This child is watching too much TV." But this was a serious question and I could tell that the answer was important to her, so putting aside for the moment why she was concerned about murder and where she got the word "redeemed" I gave her an honest answer. I said, "If someone is truly sorry and dedicates themselves to making amends, then God will forgive them no matter what they have done."

        She rolled her eyes and said in an exasperated tone, "Not God, I mean Santa Claus." Oh Santa Claus! Okay. So it's not our immortal souls we're worried about here, it's the size of our "haul" on Christmas morning. "Well", I said in response, "God may offer infinite forgiveness but with Santa Claus I think committing murder pretty much puts you on the 'naughty list'". That satisfied her and she went back to whatever six or seven year old nonsense she was engaged in at the time.

        Santa Claus, what to make of him? My granddaughter can be forgiven for thinking and speaking about Santa Claus as if he were God because, as described by adults, Santa Claus has many god-like qualities. He is wise and kindly like an old father. He knows everything, at least everything of importance like when you are sleeping and if you've been "nice". He's everywhere all the time and can be in everyone's home all over the world in one night. He judges us on a scale of "naughty" and "nice" based on our behavior. He travels, not in a "chariot of fire" perhaps, but at least in a sleigh that's candy apple red. And, of course, he is inseparably linked to the joy that is Christmas.

        Bells are ringing, children singing                                                                                                               All is merry and bright      
        Hang your stockings and say your prayers  
        'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

        It is that inseparable link to Christmas and, thereby, an inseparable link to God, which gives Santa Claus his identity and meaning. Santa Claus is Christmas, - Christmas personified. And the spirit of generosity, fellowship, and goodwill (the spirit of Christmas), which Santa Claus embodies, is merely the smallest aspect of a greater spirit that is the foundation of all things both spiritual and physical, the seen and the unseen.

        It has become a cliché that we have lost the spirit of Christmas, that Christmas is too commercialized and, in some respects, who can deny it? Shopping is practically a religion in itself in some quarters, and the retail business, in general, relies on the Christmas buying spree to turn a yearly profit. The stock market can rise and fall based on the traffic flow through the malls on Black Friday. And I suppose it is easy to point to Santa, the fountainhead of Christmas giving, as a symbol of the commercial aspect of the season. And there are those who do. But that is a misconception, a distortion of the very idea of Santa Claus and of Christmas as it is celebrated today.

        When people say Christmas has become too commercialized, what they really mean is that it has become too secular; that we have taken the "Christ" out of Christmas. But that too is a misconception. For no matter how jaded we are, no matter how wrapped up in the commercial aspects of the holiday we become, we cannot take Christ out of Christmas anymore than we can take the spirit of generosity out of Santa Claus. The two are inseparably linked and when we celebrate that holiday the spirit of Christ is expressed through us. It doesn't matter if we do it with intent or with any concept of higher purpose in mind. Whether we, as individuals, are religious or even aware of the significance of the holiday matters not one bit. The true spirit of Christmas seeps through, unstoppable and undeniable. The very way in which we celebrate Christmas, even when removed from religious purpose, is by itself holy. Indeed, even the most avowed atheist, when celebrating the "secular" holiday of Christmas with trees, wreaths, colored lights and Santa Claus partakes in the sacredness of Christmas as well. For he who expresses himself with warmth, generosity, fellowship and goodwill draws himself closer to God whether he believes in him or not.

            Santa Claus knows we're all God's children
            That makes everything right.
            So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
            'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

        So I suppose my granddaughter was actually pretty close to the mark when she was six or seven. Santa Claus may not have the authority to forgive us our trespasses, but he is the perfect symbol of Christmas, of the yearly celebration of the birth of one who can. And it is more than fitting that we celebrate that birth with buying and gift giving, with the joy, fellowship, and generosity that the Christmas tradition inspires regardless of whether we are mindful, as perhaps my granddaughter was in her innocence, that we do so in remembrance of the greatest Christmas gift of all – redemption.

            Peace on earth will come to all
            If we just follow the light.
            So let's give thanks to the Lord above
            That Santa Claus comes tonight.