I wrote this the day after Christmas in 2005. I like to get it out each year at this time and re-read it and share it again:
Santa’s Not Real
Christmas has come and gone again and like many people, I think back on the last few days with a slight sadness that the season slipped by so quickly. This year the sadness was tempered with the joy of watching my almost two-year-old son appreciate the wonder of the season for the first time. It caused me to pause, roll back the fog of time and the hectic bustle of the season and to see the holiday, for a moment, from the perspective of my long-gone childhood.
No memory seems more magical to me than that of being woken up by my younger brother with the words “He came” uttered in a hushed and awed voice. The two of us tip-toed downstairs and there in the glistening aura of twinkling multi-colored Christmas tree lights lay a world of childhood joy. The shag carpet of the living room floor had miraculously been transformed from a barren wasteland into a garden of toys blooming with the kind of ecstasy you can only experience as a child under the age of eight.
Then one year things changed. I can’t remember the specifics, but some kid with a malicious gleam in his eye said those fateful words, “Santa’s not real.” Suddenly there was a crack in my world, my faith was threatened. I tried to keep believing, tried to keep the magic alive, but someone had poked a hole in the beach ball of my belief and the air was leaking out. Some kid had derived joy from ruining my Christmas by making me feel stupid and childish. Worst of all, I was finding out for myself that he was right. What a shock it is to find out that something you believe in with all your heart is nothing more than a fable.
I think that that was one of my first tastes of adulthood. The barricade of my innocent ignorance had been breeched and questions came flooding in. I didn’t like those questions. “If Santa Clause isn’t real, then what else is a lie?” “How do I know what is real?” Most importantly for me, “If I got sold a bill of goods about Santa, what about the other important figure of Christmas, that little baby in a manger?” After all, maybe God is just a Santa for grown-ups?
Maybe that’s why people get so depressed after Christmas. It shows so much promise in the hoopla leading up to it and then its over and we are left wishing for the joy it held for us as children while not being able to believe in any of the things that brought us that joy. Perhaps it reminds us of the chasm between what we want to believe and the reality of what we see around us.
I’ve long since accepted the fact that there is no Santa, but this year for the first time I thought of something I should have asked years ago. If there is no Santa, where do the presents come from? You see the statement “Santa’s not real” offers no explanation for what I experienced as a child on Christmas morning. Those toys didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Of course, you and I both know where the presents came from, Dad and Mom. We usually just dismiss the issue at this point.
Well, I’m still pretty new at being a dad, but I had a revelation of sorts this year. Why did I spend a gazillion dollars on toys for a little boy who wouldn’t have known any better if he hadn’t gotten a thing. Why stay up half the night wrapping presents and putting train tracks together? For that matter, why do I change dirty diapers, loose sleep to take a crying baby to the hospital in the middle of the night, or watch Finding Nemo for the five-thousandth time? I do it because I have a little boy that I love so much that nothing I could ever do could use up a fraction of that love. It has nothing to do with what I get back from him. The majority of the time he doesn’t even act appreciative. So is it really worth the cost? I can’t explain why, but I feel like I am getting the greatest bargain in the world.
So now I look back at my disappointment with the non-existence of Santa Clause and I ask myself why I didn’t ever see the truly amazing thing. Reality was so much better than the fable. Suppose Santa was real. Here’s a guy in a funny-looking red suit who’s only concern for me is how good or bad I have been. He comes once a year to drop off some presents and doesn’t even stop to say hello. On the other hand I had two loving parents who worked and sacrificed, not just one day a year, but day in day out, 24/7, 365 days a year with no days off, to provide for and raise ten kids. Most of the time they didn’t even get any thanks. Instead I took them for granted. Given the choice between Santa and the parents I really had, why would I ever opt for Santa? How could I have missed this for so long? I made the mistake of prizing the concept of giving rather than the actual giving.
This Christmas I awoke to such wonderful gifts. There was the rhythmic breathing of my wife beside me in bed. There was the movement of my unborn son, days from being born, kicking in my poor wife’s swollen belly, struggling to enter into the world and begin the journey of her lifetime. There was the sleepy smile of my son as I lifted him from his crib. There was the wonderful aroma of fresh coffee in the kitchen. There was the bright morning sun splashing off the ice sculpture formed on the waterfall of the fishpond outside my front door. All of these things such priceless treasures that they cause the long forgotten toys of my childhood to seem meaningless in comparison. So who left me these presents? Who leaves them for me, not just on Christmas, but every day of the year if I will just take the time to see past the routine of my life?
For most people, God has become Santa for adults. We often view Him as an indifferent being that sits off in His North Pole keeping his Naughty and Nice list, doling out the appropriate gifts at some future time. Otherwise he keeps to Himself and lets us live out our lives. There are lots of malicious little kids, now all grown up, telling us all the time that He’s not real. Our collective faith in God has been shaken and the magic of a world we cannot see is lost in the cold hard world that envelops us. We quit believing. We never think to ask who gives us these wonderful gifts, because the beauty of these gifts is lost in the routine and taken for granted.
Maybe the problem lies in our view of the Giver. Maybe when we are told that the Santa Clause God doesn’t exist, we should look beyond our disappointment in the God of fables to try and find a truer view of God. For there are wonderful gifts under the tree and they didn’t just come out of nowhere. The love I have for my son, however great, is imperfect at best. How far greater is the love of an infinite God, who day in and day out puts up with us in our weakness, whose creativity is so apparent to anyone who will take the time to look. How much more wonderful is the love of a God who wants to be intimately involved in our daily lives and despite our indifference pours out such an endless stream of blessings on our lives. A God, who not satisfied with what he had already given, gave us the greatest gift of all, the life of His Son, to erase forever from the naughty list the names of any who would come to Him. That is the truest magic of Christmas.