Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I Believe in Santa Claus
(Another Christmas rerun from 2007--so add two years to the age references!)
I am a forty-nine year old Baptist minister who has been married for almost thirty years and who has two grown children--and I believe in Santa Claus.
I believe in Santa Claus because of what the Bible teaches. The Bible says, “Honor your father and mother.” My father always told me, even when I was a teenager and he was in his fifties, that he believed in Santa Claus and that I should, too. “Without Santa Claus,” he said, “we would lose the spirit of Christmas.” I am bound to follow the teachings of the Bible. Therefore, I continue to honor my father and believe in Santa Claus.
Visiting Santa Claus was one of the most exciting and anxiety-producing aspects of my childhood Christmas experience. I would plan ahead, polishing and perfecting my list. It had to be just right. You shouldn’t ask for too much and appear greedy, I figured; that might land you on the naughty list. But you also shouldn’t leave anything off that you really wanted. If you did, you might not get it! And if I didn’t get the exact G.I. Joe accessories that I needed, then what kind of Christmas would that be?
I have so many memories of visiting Santa Claus.
In my hometown of Barnesville, Georgia, Wisebram’s Department Store was Santa Headquarters. Our Santa was a down-to-earth accessible Santa. There would be none of that fancy Santa throne stuff for him. No, he just sat himself down in the shoe department, right there on one of the seats where we sat to try on our shoes. Well, I didn’t sit there because I wore prescription shoes and had to go to Griffin to get them, but he sat where most Barnesvillians sat.
I confess that I had my first doubts about Santa right there in the Wisebram’s Shoe Department. One year, as I was sitting on his knee, I noticed that a staple was stuck in his beard. I puzzled over that until my puzzler was sore (credit: Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas). I was concerned that maybe, just maybe, that beard had been stored in a box somewhere and there it had acquired that staple. I puzzled my way out of it, though. Who could say from where the staple came? The mystery was only enhanced! Besides, doubt is necessary as a complement to real faith.
Some years my parents and I would go to the Greenbrier Mall in Atlanta to do some Christmas shopping. In the 1960s that mall was the most magical place I had ever seen. Every department store there had a Santa Claus! That did not trouble me, for my father had long ago explained to me that Santa had to have many stand-ins while he was working at the North Pole.
One particular year I was in a quandary. I wanted a toy electric guitar. There were two models of it and I could not make up my mind which one I wanted. When I thought I had my mind made up, I went to one of the Santas and told him. He said that sounded fine to him. But then I got to thinking that I would really rather have the other model. So I went to the Santa in one of the other stores and told him that I had changed my mind. He looked at me a little funny but said that it sounded all right to him. Then I changed my mind again but I got concerned that I might confuse Santa so much that I would get a harp rather than a guitar so I decided to just leave it up to him.
Once during my childhood I entered an agnostic phase in my attitude toward Santa. I felt that there was plenty of evidence that there was no Santa but I was not willing to say for sure. I mean, what if there was, you know? This much I knew, though: the stand-in for Santa Claus that came to our church was Dock Knight, who was married to my mother’s cousin and who I had been raised to call “Uncle Dock.” I was convinced of it. And I told my father that I was convinced of it, over and over and over. That year, as Santa was prowling around the sanctuary, my father said to me, “Look back there.” There in the back of the church, standing with his arms folded across his chest, was Uncle Dock. Someone might as well have scattered magic Christmas dust all over my brain. Hope was rekindled! I had found a reason to believe again.
One of my friends was told by his mother from the very beginnings of his Christmas consciousness that there was no Santa Claus. I noticed that he always got just as much good stuff as I did. But I also noticed that he never had much joy about the Christmas experience.
I still have joy. There are much more important reasons that I have Christmas joy, of course, than that Santa Claus is coming to town.
But he is coming.
I may be a forty-nine year old Baptist preacher who has been married for almost thirty years and who has two grown children, but I’m all tingly just thinking about it. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for all the rationality and maturity in the world.