That year, I felt bold enough to make a trip to Santa’s chair – on my own. Under the watchful eye of my parents I had already presented Santa my predetermined list. But as I roamed the department store, my eyes landed on a battery powered airplane. I powered my way back to Santa. I petitioned for a revision to our pending transaction. “OK, but you need to make sure you tell your Mom what you just told me!” To be “good,” I had to do what he said, but I left wondering why she needed to know. And so began a line of inquiry that hastened my coming of age.
The birth of Jesus and the appearance of Santa Claus are linked by tradition. With tender care, a parent can tease apart truth and myth when a child raises an inquiry into these things. To some, God will always be the one who makes a list and checks it twice, who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. So if you’re good nice things happen. That might be the transactional myth of Santa Claus, but it is an errant caricature of Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Consider four differences. (1) Santa comes by stealth after dark. Jesus is “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9). He meant to be seen and heard. (2) Santa only shows up once a year. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). (3) Some children are warned that Santa gives a lump of coal if they’ve been bad. We are all bad, so one wonders by what standard Santa judges badness. Jesus said, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). (4) Children are encouraged to focus on what Santa brings, not Santa himself. Jesus offers friendship with God, “who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18).
As a child, I didn’t question the transactional nature of my dealings with Santa. Santa gives earned rewards, not gifts. Big difference! Our Father offers a transformational gift. “The gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). When you receive that gift by faith, the Light of Christmas fills your life and you are not the same. C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Just a few years after my enlightenment about Santa, that true Light cast the shadows from my soul. I believed in the Christ of Christmas and Calvary. That was the coming of age that mattered.