By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 24, 2009
I can still see the large pair of bright red trousers flapping ominously on the clothesline. They looked suspiciously like something Santa Claus might wear.
I was with a crowd of my older cousins who were eager to dispel any illusions that a little child might have.
“See those pants?” one of them chortled. “They belong to Uncle Savy!”
I was aghast. “I thought they belonged to Santa.”
A gale of laughter exploded from the cousins. “Ha, you baby! There is no Santa Claus!”
In a heartbeat, I flipped through Christmas memories. I saw a very rotund man dressed in red and emitting a faint aroma of tobacco as he handed out presents to the kids. I realized with a sinking heart that Savy Bibbo, my mom’s brother, was quite plump—and he really savored his cigars.
I was crushed when my notions about Santa were dispelled once and for all, but I kept my newfound knowledge a secret from the adults. You see, I could just envision my mother saying, “Well, if you don’t believe in him, then I guess Santa will send all the toys back to the North Pole.”
Later, I realized I had always been somewhat suspicious of the whole Santa thing.
For one, my mother would take my sister and me to Macy’s, where we were encouraged to climb upon a fat man’s lap to tell him our hearts’ desires. With that daunting beard and boisterous voice, he scared the living daylights out of me, so I refused to say a word.
But wasn’t that a good thing, since my mother was always telling me not to talk to strange men?
Later, like many adults, I feared that Santa Claus had become far too commercial, posing an actual threat to the real meaning of Christmas. But one day I realized that children don’t live in an “either-or” world, as in: “Choose Christ or Santa.”
The great thing about kids is that they inhabit what logicians call a “both-and” world. Asked to choose between chocolates or cookies, a child may reply, “I’ll take both.”
So they can very easily enjoy all the hoopla associated with Santa Claus—and still grasp that Christmas’s real meaning is the birth of Christ.
Over the years some Christians have grown increasingly suspicious of Santa, who has been used by companies to sell everything from diamonds to dolls. And it’s easy to see why the suspicions have grown, since secular society has tried very hard to cover up Santa’s roots as St. Nicholas. The fact that “Santa” means saint—and saints are followers of Jesus Christ—is too often forgotten.
It’s important to realize what Santa Claus really is all about. Despite the efforts of secularists to turn him into a symbol of greed, Santa represents generosity and love. At heart, he is an attempt by adults to make children’s dreams come true, even if it’s just for a day.
Of course, for every child there comes a moment when the veil falls away, and reality rears its determined head. There comes a day when the trousers show up on the clothesline and a cousin blurts out the truth. And in a flash, the child realizes who has been eating all those cookies left for Santa over the years.
But the wise child knows Christmas still is a wondrous time even without a belief in Santa. After all, the baby in the manger brings something that outshines every toy and every doll. As the angels put it so long ago, the Christ Child brings tidings of great joy and peace to the world. And these are gifts that last forever.
Lorraine Murray’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” and “Death in the Choir,” a mystery. Artwork is by her husband, Jef. The Murrays attend St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.