I’ve Got a Problem with You, Mr. Claus

“He who has not Christmas in his heart
will never find it under a tree.”

-Roy L. Smith

Christmas is that time of year when we seek ‘peace on earth’ and ‘good will towards men.’ It is a holiday for gift-giving. We forget about ourselves so that we can keep our minds on others. We celebrate the self-emptying of the God-man who was born on Christmas Day. The season of Advent is even given to help prepare us for that coming. And we celebrate the coming of a jolly, old fat man from whom we expect a plethora of gifts, giving him in return our nice behavior and a plate of cookies… Wait… What?!?

There seems to be an immense disconnect between Santa Claus and the true meaning of Christmas. People tell me that we need to understand what Santa reveals to the world. First of all, we learn of Santa from St. Nicholas, wSt. Nicholasho supposedly gave selflessly. Who knows if that is actually true? But he was a saint, so we can assume he was a reasonably good person. Also, Santa flies across the entire world, giving gifts to all the good boys and girls. All that he wants in return is cookies with milk. That is all! He gives selflessly. He spends the whole year preparing for that one night when he travels the world to give gifts to people of all lands, not expecting gifts in return. He is supposed to set an example for all people, to give of themselves selflessly to those around them. When we give gifts at Christmas time, we should not do it in order to receive gifts back; we should do it out of a desire to give to others.

No matter how much we push this idea of selfless giving, children end up seeing Santa as this man who gives out a bunch of free stuff in exchange for our good behavior. I’m not going to try to make the claim that every single child has been coaxed in by this materialistic ideology of today. However, I will say that Santa makes it difficult to not be absorbed by that. Growing up in a good Catholic home, I knew that Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While I knew we celebrated it on that day, that was merely secondary. All I looked forward to on Christmas was gifts. I would always compile these elaborate Christmas lists, becoming consumed by these many things I would use for a day and then get bored. There wasn’t much that would convince me to forget this attitude. Only when I remembered Jesus and forgot Santa was I able to abandon this rampant materialism for the true meaning of Christmas.

Another issue I have with Santa is his promise of presents in exchange for good behavior. If children are ‘naughty,’ they’ll get coal in their stockings. All that this does is scare children into acting ‘nice.’ Children develop this tendency to expect good things when they are nice. Be NiceWhen they find out in the real world that niceness is not always repaid with good things, it can become easy to abandon that good behavior for doing whatever they want. While I would not place the blame completely upon him, it seems as though the over-emphasis of receiving gifts from Santa Claus has served as a contributing factor to the moral deterioration of society. We should seek to “be good for goodness sake.” Goodness should be a means to the end of our own benefits. We should be seeking goodness because it is good. When we are taught growing up that our goodness is ultimately repaid with gifts, and our badness is punished with coal, we implicitly and inaccurately learn to seek goodness only for its benefits and to avoid punishment.

I’m not necessarily saying that we should completely avoid this idea of Santa Claus (a discussion for a different time and place). It just seems as though everyone has screwed up their own understanding of the importance of Christmas. It is such an important day to celebrate, for we remember the birth of Christ. What’s the point of Advent if we don’t utilize it to prepare ourselves for the coming of the God-man? Santa Claus reveals the idea of selfless giving, expecting nothing in return. But Christ reveals this so much more. Christ completely emptied Himself, humbling Himself to humanity so that man could be in relationship with God. If Santa leads us to a fuller understanding of Who God is and Who Christ is, then, by all means, continue on your celebration of Christmas. But I think that everyone needs to be able to step back and take a look at their approach to Christmas. We cannot truly celebrate Christmas if we forget Christ (or His Mass). As with every holiday celebration, it is important for us to take stock of our approach to this most blessed of holidays: this celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord.

“To the American People:
Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind.
To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy,
is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior
and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.”

-Calvin Coolidge

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Duc In Altum

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