Taking Santa With a Wink

Drive past the decorated front lawns of some American homes this holiday season and you might spot a plastic Santa Claus or Frosty visiting a crche, right alongside the three wise men.

Such non sequiturs remind us of the time in Japan - a largely non-Christian nation which has imported the commercialism more than the spirit of Christmas - that a department store once decorated its window display with a crucified Santa.

Then there's all the American media fantasy that turns children into lovers of gifts from Santa rather than seekers after the gift of love that was the first Christmas.

We're not knocking Santa Claus. He's perfect for make-believe. But something gets lost when gift-giving as an act of selfless love at Christmas is transferred to a benevolent creature of European folklore and then exploited by business ad nauseam.

Yes, Virginia, there is more to Christmas than Santa Claus. Far more.

For one, Christmas is a time to remember the universal appearance of a higher truth, and that isn't helped by deluding young children about someone who can fly through the air and drop down chimneys. Too much emphasis on Santa could plant seeds of deceptiveness in children or later resentment at having been hoodwinked. And why use the promise of elf-made gifts as an incentive for good behavior?

Santa Claus is a nice story, like the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy. But let's keep his story at the level of myth.

Reading the poem "The Night Before Christmas" or listening to Bruce Springsteen sing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" can be a joy, but then so is reading a Dr. Seuss book to a child. Who would make the Cat in the Hat real?

Children need to dream, and occasionally cherish a fantasy. But the fantasy of Old Saint Nick - especially when teamed with today's hyper-commercialized and hyper-long shopping season - comes at the expense of a deeper understanding of Christmas as a reminder of what Jesus' birth brought to humanity.

Let's be sure a belief in Santa Claus doesn't become the Grinch that stole Christmas.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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