Every year there is a conversation that happens all around me at Christmas time. I heard it on a bit from NPR the other day and it also happened in my own house.
Do we tell Jude about Santa Clause?
Most of the conversation is about the pluses and minuses of telling a child about Santa. On one side there seems to be this articulation that the Santa myth is okay because it has mystery and magic. There is a sense of anticipation one can build for children built around what Santa will bring them for Christmas. It makes for great stories and memories. However, I have noticed that if I advocate for the revelation of Santa to my son there is a great backlash. And I think the only reason this aggressive backlash happens is that the Santa debate is really a God debate.
As I listen to people talk about God and see God depicted on television, God and Santa operate much the same way both:
Give you stuff if you are good.
Give you bad stuff if you bad.
Have the final say and operate like a judge.
Have people working for him.
Have keep a list of the good and bad people.
Is all over the world.
I could go on and I am sure you could make some additional connections, however what I am getting at is that I wonder if there is a part of each one of us that wants to and likes to think of God in Santa terms. While we use the word "mystery" to describe Santa, Santa is not really a mystery at all. I mean if you get a lump of coal in your stocking, it is not a mystery as to what that means. You were bad. If you did not believe in Santa then Santa loses his "powers" (just look at how many Santa movies talk about Santa's need for people to believe in order for Santa to have any magic). Santa is straight forward. If you are good, you get good. If you are bad, you get bad. He has lists. He checks them twice. The Santa myth uses mystery language but in fact is not a mystery at all.
The Triune God however is all mystery. For starters how can something be three AND one? Beyond this, if you are good, you still get bad in life. If you are bad, you still get good in life. God does not need people to believe in order to have power or survive. God is ultimate mystery.
And perhaps this is at the heart of the Santa debate. All of us I would bet, on some level want God to be more like Santa. Controllable and 100% understandable - mystery free if you will. But God is not like Santa and the Santa myth is an expression of the God we may want on some level. So we resist letting go of the Santa myth "for the sake of the Children" but in reality I wonder if we resit letting go of the Santa myth for our own sake? I wonder if the backlash I feel is not because people enjoy lying to children, but because the Santa myth fits so nicely with what many people and popular culture describe as God?
I may be way off here, but I just cannot understand why people get angry when I tell them I want to tell my son that mommy and daddy are really Santa. Perhaps it is because it is on some level threatening to our God image. God is not a man. God does not keep lists. God is not like Santa. Why else would people get angry about unmasking Santa?