Alright, I am not the biggest "anti-Santa" fanatic in the world. I used to be, then I became a youth minister that occasionally has to work with young children, and I had a young child of my own. I mean, I see the Consumerism in the whole thing. I also hate the Santa-Claus view of God, in which God is benevolent grandpa in the sky who only gives good gifts to good girls and boys. And, I think that Santa, as we know him in 21st century America, contributes to both consumerism and the Santa ideal of God.
Yet, just as the idea of Saint Nicholas as been co-opted to become the Santa Claus of mass marketing, so also the Santa Claus can be co-opted back to teach about Saint Nicholas and the Spirit of selfless giving that flows from Christ. If the "Santa Myth" can be "spun" for bad, then it can also be "spun" for good. So, I do not mind Santa so much anymore. He is a morally neutral tool that can be used used to serve Jesus just as easily as he is used to serve selfishness.
In general, I have found that it is much more profitable to "spin" the Santa Myth to serve Jesus than to de-bunk the myth altogether. If you de-bunk the myth, you hurt kids and hurt families... needlessly... because they would have figured out the Santa Myth in two years anyhow. Instead, when you debunk the myth you destroy any usefulness that the example of Santa may serve to share Jesus with kids. If you destroy Santa, the kids you tell get upset and bitter, and then they will covertly share their "bitter joy" by destroying Santa for other kids too. And then you have dozens of parents mad at you for telling little so-n-so that Santa is not real. But, if you keep Santa, you get to use his joy and selfless giving to point to the Source of his Love: the Risen Christ. Then, when they get older, Santa may leave them, but Santa's meaning, and Santa's Lord, will not.
But, the last few weeks have made me seen how badly Santa can be twisted to the "dark side". First of all, I was Santa at our Church a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday morning. About 50 kids were gathered for "Breakfast with Santa", where they paid $5.00 for a continental breakfast and a photo-op on Santa's (my) lap. First, they gathered all of the kids and had "Mrs. Claus" (who is also my English nanny!) read the Santa Claus story. Then they came and got me out of my hiding place. Then I rang bells ominously as I walked down the hall into the worship area, where the breakfast was being held.
Then it happened. You should have seen it through my eyes.
50 kids staring at me in amazement and joy, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, laughing, shouting, and waving at me. It was as if God had entered the room. Seriously. They could not have been more excited if God Himself, robed in glory and power, with myriads of angels, entered into the worship center.
I consciously wondered, as I waved and said "Ho Ho Ho", if God would strike me dead for idolatry. I was being worshipped as God in the middle of HIS sanctuary. I didn’t mean to be worshipped. It just kind of happened.
Now for the ten million dollar question: Why don't these kids react that way when the cross is processed on Sunday morning? Why doesn’t everyone act that way when we sing songs of praise? Something is wrong here. Something is out of whack.
Now, I just watched the 10pm news on Fox 4 Dallas. The top story was about a first grade teacher in Richardson who told her class that Santa was not real. The news reports that the kids were destroyed and the parents were enraged at "destroying the faith" of their children. Some of the parents said their children are so traumatized that they took them to the mall to sit on Santa's lap to show he is real. Some of the parents wanted the teacher fired.
Can you imagine? A war is being fought in Iraq. People are dying of starvation all over the world. Christians are being persecuted for their faith in countless nations. Millions of dollars were made and lost today in both legal and illegal transactions. Yet, the top story on the news is a teacher who tells the truth to her kids. Huh? Is there something I missed here?
We do not complain when teachers in public school deny the existence of God or the historical reality of Jesus Christ. We do not complain when they portray history in completely secular terms, totally divorced from the religious realities that were so important in shaping actual events. We do not complain when they teach science and history using anti-religious rhetoric, making religion the enemy of "scientific progress" in such celebrated episodes as the Inquisition, Galileo's struggles, the Salem Witch Trials, or the Scopes Monkey Trial.
Yet, it makes the top story when teachers reject Santa Claus? I just don't get it! Don't get me wrong. I do not want to Christianize the public school system, and get secular teachers to teach a bad version of what should be taught well in the Church. In fact, I do not want the schools to be pro-Christian or anti-Christian, just realistic, objective, and balanced about all of the forces that shape society. But that is another point...
How on Earth do we re-balance the whole Santa thing? I don't think that the way to achieve balance is to de-mythologize Santa, especially not for really young kids. But, we shouldn't worship Santa or put him above Christ either.
So, what do we do? I do not want to be guilty of "santadolatry"!