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The Catholic Moment: Santa Claus is comin’ to town

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November 21, 2011

By Jeanne Hunt

Well, it has finally happened: I am getting requests for topics that you want to hear about! 


At least nine people have stopped me in the library, church, grocery store, etc…, asking that I discuss what to do with Santa Claus. I didn’t know he was causing a problem. Apparently, many young parents are worried that giving Santa Claus center stage on Christmas will eliminate Jesus Christ from His first-place spot. Perhaps there’s a deeper question here: Is Jesus in danger of getting kicked off the island? As an expert on Christmas, my call is an emphatic “Yes!”


Children love that “jolly old elf.” Why not? He brings amazing gifts, is generous beyond understanding and comes and goes like magic. What’s not to love? In fact, Santa sounds peculiarly like my old buddy, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Therein lies our hope. I believe that Santa Claus is our best bet at teaching little ones the identity of our Divine Father.


Children begin to learn who God is by associating God with the people who love them. So, the very first impressions of a loving God come from Mommy and Daddy. If we parents act with unconditional love, mercy and patience, little ones can begin to make that giant leap to know God. The opposite is just as true: If children are abused, disregarded or hated, they want nothing to do with a Divine Judge who is waiting to hurt them. In those early years, other characters also come into their imaginations to either support the image of a loving God or tear it down.


This is where Santa Claus comes to the rescue. He is the epitome of generous love. He began as a very human guy, St. Nicholas, and morphed into the Coca Cola Santa. The saint was famous for his generosity. He supplied three poor sisters with gold for their dowries, sneaking into their house and putting the gold in their stockings.


Gradually, people developed great devotion to this holy bishop. St. Nicholas modeled God’s loving heart and taught us what it takes to be generous like the Divine Lover. As he traveled through the centuries, his bishop’s miter and crosier became a furry hat and a bag full of toys. But his spirit remained authentic: Santa Claus is still the picture image of our loving Father, and every Christian child in the world is getting to know their heavenly Father by meeting this saint.


A famous priest and author recently wrote about this connection. He remarked that many American Catholics envision God the Father as a Santa Claus kind of guy. He encouraged us to grow up and stop wanting God to be made in our image. He says the reverse is true: we are made in God’s image, and the discovery is life changing. Yet, little ones simply can’t comprehend such lofty theology. They need to meet God where they are. So, let’s welcome Santa Claus into the celebration of Christmas as a generous saint who brings gifts to honor Jesus on His birthday.


I suggest that the first thing we do is find an image of St. Nicholas (dressed as a bishop) and a good children’s story about him. On the night before his feast day, Dec. 6, join the Dutch children by placing your stockings and shoes outside your door with a letter to St. Nicholas inside. Then, in the morning, the children will find a little treat and a return letter from the wise saint. Teach the children to put Jesus at the center of Christmas, but to see Santa Claus as the saint/hero of God’s generosity. Santa Claus is comin’ to town whether we like it or not, so far better to turn him into God’s ambassador of love rather than a secular sugar daddy.


Hunt is the evangelization and catechetical advisor for Franciscan Media.


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