Over the past week, I’ve noticed a certain theme emerging on the chatter feeds around me:
Santa. Love him or leave him?
An article in the Episcopal Cafe quoted a story about an Episcopal priest who always invited Santa to the Christmas worship services: “‘If we never mention Santa Claus, then you create a parallel universe,’ said McCausland, who retired in June. ‘What I try to do in this story is to tie the two together, but not make Santa Claus primary.'” (http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/faith_and_culture/wrestling_with_santa.html)
The same article quoted a Newsbiscuit spoof that suggested moving the religious festival of the Nativity to end its confusion/conflation with the secular cultural festival of Christmas. Santa was definitely not on the side of the angels in this version of the Christmas dilemma!
Last week, I mentioned James Kiefer’s hagiography of St Nicholas (which I found at http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Nicholas). He suggests that parents can use the etiology of the Santa Claus legend to promote selfless giving in their children, without deceit or losing a cultural icon particularly important to children.
And every year, there are stories in the British papers of some Church of England priest or another that outrages parents and upsets children by insisting upon debunking the Santa myth in school assemblies or church carol services. Such incidents probably do not encourage people without a church home to find one at Christmas! (Hence today’s headline!)
So does Santa belong in the Christmas Eve creche? From the little we actually know of Nicholas of Myra, I am sure that he would be overwhelmed, awed and delighted to be included in the adoration of the infant Jesus.
I sympathise with those jaded by the Santa stories. The supernatural superhero Santa is a distraction to impressionable children. But the Gospel should not be threatened by distractions. The story of Christmas, of the Incarnation of God, Emmanuel, is greater than any other ever told. I feel as though God doesn’t need us to protect it. Instead, we are told to proclaim it, loudly.
Maybe Santa can help with that?