But, Audrey, There Really IS a Santa Claus

This post talks about religion in a serious and believing way, and about Santa Claus in a similar way. If that bugs you, stop now, and read something else.

My dear friend and fellow Magyar Audrey Rindlisbacher wrote a blog post about Santa Claus. Do not read it with young children. But read it, because she’s a delightful person, even though on this issue she’s so wrong I’m speechless.

Not really. I’m not speechless very often.

In fact, after you read her missive, here is my response to it:


I read your blog. I didn’t like it (you should not be dismayed in the slightest by this), but one of the reasons is that I think you’re lying to your children in a different way. I shall offer an example dear to my heart and see if I can illustrate what I mean.
Is there a Jesus Christ? Yes, assuredly. How do you know? Well, because there are writings about him of an historical nature, there are millions of people that believe in Him, and we can see His handiwork all around us (and the Holy Spirit has so testified, but leave that aside for the moment). But none of this is proof, in the commonly accepted sense of the term. And, as you probably already deduced, all of it also applies to Santa Claus.
In fact, there is a Santa Claus, although it might be slightly less inaccurate to talk about Father Christmas, or even better, Saint Nicholas, who was almost certainly a real person. Since the three names (and hundreds of others, like another person above) all mean the same dude, let’s just pick St. Nick as the name we’ll discuss.
He was probably real. He was possibly also magic, in the sense that he performed deeds that defy easy explanation and could be called supernatural. If we were Catholics, we could dispense with the formalities and just say that he did miracles. Again, there’s a close analogue in Jesus Christ.
But, you will say, Christ is alive, right now, and active. I won’t dispute that for one second (I’m not at all sure that St. Nick isn’t, too). In spite of His activity and reality, most of the discernible work being done here on earth is being done not by Him directly, but by people like you and me, acting in His place.
And that sounds a lot like St. Nicholas, too, doesn’t it?
There are a lot of people that believe in some cartoon version of Christ, where He is alleged to have done things He almost certainly didn’t do, and even where He has behaved (or asked them to behave) in ways that are completely unlike Him. That doesn’t change His reality. It doesn’t change His importance, or His power, or diminish my obligation to behave in a way that testifies of the truth about Him. So St. Nick is cartoony and weird in claymation videos. So what? They’re fairy tales, which are dead useful and fun to boot. Lots of people think the Bible is fairy tales, you may be aware. Some Biblical stories may even be legends, not precisely accurate in the modern CSI sense. Does that mean there is no Bible? Of course not. The “legend of Job” (not saying there’s no truth in it) has no bearing on the historical Christ. Rudolph has no bearing on St. Nick, either.
Lest I be accused of equating Christ and St. Nicholas, I should say that analogies always break down at some point, and this one breaks down here, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have uses. In my house, St. Nicholas is alive and well, and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without him. He isn’t Christ, but he isn’t a fake, either. He has true power, and his example moves millions of people to behave in better ways than they otherwise would. That isn’t real? What’s your definition of real, then? Is Nephi real? Paul? Caesar? None of them have anything like the impact on the modern world, either for good or ill, that St. Nick does. Each of them has problems of historicity (yes, even Caesar, whose image is funhouse-mirrored by Shakespeare) analogous to those that St. Nicholas faces.
You can say there’s no Santa Claus, in the magical fairy sense, but there’s also no St. Paul in that sense, either. So what? Both of them are real, just as real as you and I are. Every day I’m going about doing things in the name of a long-dead (and now living nonetheless) being that wants me to be a better person, kinder and more generous to everyone around me, who has asked me to give gifts at particular times and places to people near and far. If I can do that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, who can tell me I’m not also Santa Claus?

Our family’s approach also isn’t for everyone, but I think it has an imaginative and magical element that defies the simple “I told them there wasn’t a Santa Claus” bailout mode that seems to be the default for so many people, almost all of whom mean well, but seem to me to be missing some of the point. I’ve written about that here, among other places. And to me, it has the virtue of being as close to the reality of the situation as it’s possible for a bear of Very Little Brain to come.

Thanks for a stimulating blog post, Audrey. No matter what this serious treatise may sound like, I’m a fan. You do good work, and I’m proud to know you.


P.S. The magic of Santa is an interesting (but to me tangential) point. In our family, we read a lot of fantasy, and one of the things that Dad has been heard to loudly complain about is magic that has 1) no rules and 2) no cost. Magic always has rules, and always has costs. Always. Santa doesn’t magic up toys without limit – no one can do that. To return to the analogy, Christ’s gift is infinite, but that’s only because the COST was infinite. You can’t pay it, not even the smallest part of it, nor can I. But it was because of the rules that it was necessary in the first place, and it has a tremendous cost. At our house, the mechanics of this haven’t been discussed, but the letters St. Nick leaves (on December 6th – St. Nicholas’ Day – not Christmas Day) always reference not only his need to make sure there’s enough for everyone, but also that he expects us to be giving much more than we’re receiving at this time of year. Yeah, I suppose I have to admit that the Jones version of how all this works is complicated and possibly not all that coherent, if you press it, but my very inquisitive children have come to terms with it, each in their own way. Nevertheless, they all know, in no uncertain terms, that Dad and Mom believe in St. Nicholas, whatever his trappings and location and size of helper. He is real to me.
BTW, I’ve never seen a Christmas list in my house. Not one. Ever. The kids would be offended at the suggestion they should have one. Once one of my kids did get a blank “Christmas list” from a department store Santa, and all he used it for was to write a lengthy list of what his brothers and sisters wanted for Christmas. What WE want for Christmas couldn’t be less relevant; the only thing we ever talk about is what we’re GIVING.
Call it luck. Could be – there’s surely an element of luck to it. No dispute. But a lot of it is planning and discussing and hard work. It’s made Christmas as greed-free as it can be, I think, without in any way diminishing the magical unpredictability of it.

I love Christmas, and I hope yours is very merry indeed.

P.S. My favorite, and probably best, post on Christmas is here.

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