I still believe in Santa Claus, not the whole North Pole concept complete with Rudolph of course, but the idea of Santa Claus as the spirit of giving. There have been times in my life when presents have just appeared anonymously in unlikely places. These gifts from secret Santa Clauses have often been the most special. I know some people feel children shouldn’t be allowed to believe in Santa Claus. In fact, my parents fell into that camp. From the earliest ages, I knew that my presents came from my parents and that Santa Claus was just a story. My mother did tell me not to tell other kids, though, so I wouldn’t ruin the fun for them.
With my own young children, I have tried to maintain more of a balance. They know about St. Nicholas and that he is the real Santa Claus. They know about the spirit of giving and that we all help Santa Claus by making and buying gifts for other people. They definitely know that Christmas is about Jesus. We spend Advent getting ready for Jesus’ birth. This year we are doing a Jesse Tree and reading daily from a little book of reflections on Advent for children every day. They will participate in the Christmas Eve pageant at Church as they have the past three years.
Secure in that knowledge, I don’t feel bad that they still believe in Santa Claus and Rudolph. Their classmates still believe as well. In fact, at one point, I actually tried to tell them that Santa Claus as depicted in the popular media isn’t real. I was rebuffed by a very strong, “Santa is real, Mommy!” After all, you can actually watch Santa’s travels on the NORAD website! The secular trappings of the Christmas season are magical to children. While Jesus’ birth should certainly be magical enough, the music on the radio, the beautiful tree (mostly covered with ornaments that they have made), the lights, making Christmas cookies, and dreaming of the presents that will be under the tree Christmas morning all add to their celebration of the season and bring joy into our cold, dark New England days. Truth be told, they help me enjoy the season as well.
I believe it is possible to balance the sacred and the secular during this time of preparation for Jesus’ birth. The spiritual aspects are of paramount importance, but the other aspects are enjoyable as well. A child can believe in Santa and still understand that the reason we are getting the presents is to help celebrate Jesus’ birth. I love the figurine of Santa bending in prayer over the Baby Jesus in the Manger because I think that it illustrates this concept so well. Even Santa (and especially the real Santa, St. Nicholas) knows the reason for Christmas. As adults we can spend ample time in spiritual preparation while still enjoying Christmas parties and gift giving. If we allow the secular traditions to enhance our celebration of the spiritual, then there is no conflict. It is only when we allow the secular to take precedence over Jesus that we run into difficulty.