I was raised in a Baptist family that did not teach about Santa bringing gifts. We knew about Santa, and thought it was fun, but my parents were careful to explain that he is pretend, while Jesus is real. So I grew up knowing the difference, and never had my childhood faith shaken by thinking my parents lied to me about one Christmas story, so they must be lying about the other one. (North Pole vs. Bethlehem.) What about others? Did the realization that Santa Claus does not exist (in a real, physical way) affect your belief in Jesus?
The three of us were talking about winter and Christmases of our childhoods. I am a rural child; the other two are urban/suburban. I am American; they are Canadian. Their strongest memories of Christmas involve Santa Claus and the Eaton’s department store windows. My Baptist, rural roots didn’t include these.
My parents did not teach us that Santa Claus brought Christmas toys. Santa Claus was a nice story to make children feel special at Christmas, but not real. We still had Christmas stockings, and a “Santa gift” that Mom didn’t want to wrap – usually the big gift, like a tricycle or dollhouse. I don’t know if my younger sisters believed in Santa; I cerainly didn’t, and never did. I remember my mother making it very clear to me, about the age of four, that Santa is a myth, not real like Jesus.
I think I enjoyed Christmas more bcause of it. I liked the Christmas pageant, the Nativity story, and I really loved other people’s creches, although we didn’t have one for a long time. (It was a serious theological issue in the Baptist Church those days – should we have any representations of Christ, or does that encourage idolatry?) The tree, the gifts and the seasonal music were part of a party atmosphere that broke up the dreary days of winter, but not as important as the whole mystery of the Incarnation. Well, I probably didn’t think of it that esoterically, but I had that sense even as a child.
Nicholas and Mother Kay were raised in secular families. Santa was the center of the celebration. They went to department stores to see Santa, and Kay remembers a video phone at one store from which children could talk to Santa. Christmas Eve was full of exciting anticipation, but there must have been many Christmas mornings of disappointment.
In this household, three priests and a small child sharing a roof and table, the two-year-old, Child Patience, brings us a renewed perspective. She knows about Santa (outside influences can’t be helped unless we all move to a strict Old-Order Amish community) but seems to think he is just a cartoon character; she hasn’t encountered a costumed Santa here. And while we have Christmas trees (one is an angel tree, her favourite) the house has several creches and no jolly old elves. She knows who Mary is, and the Baby; that guy Joseph is still not an important part of the story. We stop to look at the creches, and she identifies “Mirrym” and “Baby.” There is a photograph in the hall of a marble statue of Mary and the infant Jesus, and they have been a part of her life since she was herself a babe in arms.
Her Nana, Mother Kay, was talking to an old friend on the phone last week. As usual, Child Patience wanted to chat as well. After a few “hi’s” and giggles, she asked, “Who’s that?”, meaning the person on the other end of the conversation. “It’s Mary,” Nana answered. Child Patience was immediately impressed.”Mirrym!” she cried, pointing to the creche.
Who wants to tell her differently? Other children write letters to Santa, visit Santa at the mall, and may even e-mail him. Child Patience has talked to the Blessed Virgin on the telephone.