The Trouble with Santa Claus

By: Dennis Bates

An eight-year-old girl named Virginia sent a letter to a New York City newspaper shortly before the turn of the 20th Century. She asked a simple question: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Sana Claus?” The unsigned editorial that followed has become one of the most quoted and reprinted editorials of all time. It has been used in movies, several of which have become film classics on their own terms, and it has been translated into dozens of foreign languages.

 

No one can argue that its sentiments are heartfelt and that its writing is expertly crafted even by today’s standards. It would hard to dispute the fact that in some ways the world would be a better place if more people saw it as the editorial writer sees it.

 

“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see….Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world….Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”

 

Of course the most famous lines follow:

 

“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….No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

 

The trouble I have with Santa Claus is he’s a lie, not a myth, but a lie; not fiction, but untruth, and there is a difference. In spite of the sentiments and the fine writing in the portions from the now famous response, they explicitly invoke hints of the eternal while implicitly suggesting that the temporal is in complete control.

 

The newsman who wrote this response suggests that somehow we will extinguish or destroy the eternal if we don’t believe in Santa Claus and those unseen qualities he attributes to him. If Christmas were the season to celebrate Santa Claus, if it were Clausmas or Santamas we celebrate (and perhaps for far too many, it is), then his observations would be profound.

 

But to say that Santa Claus exists and the love and generosity he evokes gives life its highest beauty and joy, to pile on saying that the jolly red faced fat man in the funny suit somehow represents the eternal and that there is nothing else that is real and abiding…I’m sorry, that’s just a lie that needs to be set straight.

 

This is the Christmas season, which is the season that celebrates the coming of the Christ, as in Christmas. That is short for Christ’s Mass, a celebration of the coming of eternity to man. Belief in Santa Claus and his love, no matter how sweetly it is described is NOT the only thing in the world that is real and abiding. Belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who has come to man is the only thing that is real and abiding.

 

I’m not sure that the editorial writer meant to suggest anything to the contrary, but I do know that it appears the world has taken it that way. I used to worry sometimes that teaching children about Santa Claus was more than teaching them a harmless, childhood story. We all remember how smart we felt we were when we found out the truth about Santa Claus. A lot of us learned from a sister, a brother or a good friend, and somehow after we acquired that bit of “adult” knowledge we never believed anything quite as readily again.

 

My concern is that children will have the same reaction to the story of the Babe in the manger. After all, Santa Claus was a childhood story and once we were old enough, we learned the truth. The birth of the Christ child comes at the same time. Why isn’t it the same kind of myth, a childhood story that gives us something to build church Christmas programs around?

 

That’s the real trouble I have with Santa Claus. We mix him up with the Christ child and when we find out that Santa’s a myth, a worldly stand in for the Babe in the manger, he takes both himself and the Babe down at the same time, and that perpetuates the biggest lie of all.

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3 Responses to The Trouble with Santa Claus

  1. I agree. There is a history that runs deeper than American pop culture. I have a two-year-old and my husband and I mull over how we want to celebrate Christmas as she gets older.

    My thought on this issue is this: If we tell our children to believe in fictional characters such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy and they find out that they are not real, how much harder will it be for them to believe in the truth: God and Jesus Christ–entities that like the myths, cannot be seen?

    I did a bit of internet research on Santa Claus last year and came to this site: Bible Believers on Santa Claus. Mind you, everything should be taken with a grain of salt, but this site gives a variety of biblical and historical sources to help one learn about the history behind Santa Claus and the Christmas holiday.

    I think that everything should be balanced. If we teach our kids that there isn’t a Santa Claus, then we should give them something to look forward to when the holidays come, such as keeping the traditions of gift-giving and decorating, preparing special foods, honoring God and helping the community.

    My House Boutique, “Where life is handmade and heart-loved.”

  2. Is anyone surprised that I’m going to disagree? If so, then you don’t know Dennis and I very well.

    Santa Claus is not a myth. Santa Claus was a very real person. His name was Bishop Nicholas. (St. Nick, and yes, he was real.) St. Nicholas was a very respected bishop and also very generous. At that time for a young lady to wed, she had to have a dowry. There was a very poor family in town with three daughters and no hope of marrying them to anyone for they could not afford the dowry. So, Bishop Nicholas seeing the family’s plight went on their roof during the night and dropped gold coins down their chimney. Some of the gold coins landed in the stockings that were hung by the fire to dry.

    In the morning the family found the coins, and there was great rejoicing for their terrible burden had been lifted by the overwhelming generosity of a saintly man.

    THAT’S where Santa Claus comes from. I remember well when I “found out,” and you know what? I did not feel more grown up, In fact, I felt a little sad in fact that people would stop believing in the spirit of a good man whose legacy lives on even now–even with people who don’t know who he was or why they carry on the tradition.

    Santa Claus isn’t a myth or a lie. Santa Claus was a real man. Santa means Saint. Claus is a variant of Nicholas. Saint Nicholas. His feast day is Dec. 6, and because it fell so close to Christmas, he became something of a symbol of the generosity that God had in sending His Son to us.

    Are we going to stop sending cards on Valentine’s Day because the meaning behind St. Valentine’s Day has been co-opted by the greeting card company? Or maybe we won’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day either.

    I get what you’re saying. In fact, a friend of mine some years back said the same thing. When she found out “there was no Santa Claus,” she said to her mom, “Well, is there no Jesus either?” But this is not a problem with Santa Claus. It’s a problem with not knowing the history to be able to tell the children WHY we carry on the tradition of generosity by this great saint.

    Last year in Sunday School, we took the seemingly strange 12 Days of Christmas, and I explained how that song was created during the persecutions so parents could teach children their Christian heritage and pass it on. Then we talked about candy canes, where they came from and why. And red and green. And yes… Santa Claus.

    As I tell my kids every year, the saints were not perfect. We don’t worship them, but they were men and women who KNEW what was important and they had the courage to make the right things important. St. Nicholas was just such a person. We don’t have too much of that in the world. We have too little!

    So when my kids are old enough (my oldest is 13 if that tells you anything), we will have a long sit down chat about Santa Claus, where he comes from, and why it’s important that we carry on the tradition that he showed us of loving each other enough to be extra generous and kind. There’s no question in my mind that our world could certainly use MORE of that!

  3. Dennis says:

    Staci, I have to admit that’s a new one. And I’m going to have to be convinced. Even then, Santa Claus as we know him and as this writer portrayed him is a myth and a lie that grows larger each day. Even if your story checks out (g) it does not alter the fact that Christmas has nothing to do with the event you mention. It celebrates the birth of the Christ child. Whether there is an historical person as you suggest or not is not the issue. Christmas does not celebrate the benevolent act of that person or any other person, and in my opinion, it was the Magi who were the first gift givers, not St. or Bishop Nicholas.

    Dennis

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