This isn’t the first year that I’ve had to concede that I might look a little like Santa Claus. White hair (what’s left of it) and beard, I wear reading glasses that sometimes sit on the end of my nose, my face is a little red - let’s say rosey cheeks - and, of course, most importantly, I might be a little round. Not “like a bowlful of jelly” round, but round enough. Throw a red hat on that and I could be Santa.
I’m pretty sure I don’t meet the minimum “jolly” requirement and my “ho, ho, ho” is weak, so I haven’t been asked to stand in for the real thing. Although, I feel pretty certain that I could. So could you. I’ll come back to that.
I’m on a bit of a mission this year to remind people that Santa is part of the Christmas story. Maybe not the biblical one, but the bigger one, the one we live every year.
There are a variety of traditions that give us the features of the Santa we know, but most of them stem from St. Nicholas. Nicholas was a bishop in the late third, early fourth century in part of Asia Minor that’s now in Turkey. He was born into a wealthy Greek family, but his parents died in an epidemic when he was young. He was devoutly religious and the idea of Jesus as a loving servant, who cares for others and gives all that he has, inspired him to travel, giving generously from his wealth. The legendary stories of his gift giving became the most significant part of his later incarnations, along with Sinterklass in the Netherlands and Father Christmas in Britain and other local traditions.
So: Santa Claus was inspired by Jesus.
I doubt Clement C. Moore was thinking that in 1823 when he wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“Twas the night before Christmas”). It certainly doesn’t seem to feature in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or any of the more recent incarnations, like the “Santa Clause” movie franchise. And then there’s all the other “traditions” we’ve added since to liven up our Christmas season. They seem to lead us further away from that night in Bethlehem.
Hang on a minute, though. Do they?
The Christmas story is about love and hope. It’s about the birth of a child, in the most unlikely of circumstances, who will be something special. It’s about wonder, and a joy that finds its way into a dark stable in a remote corner of an occupied country, celebrated by people on the margins of society and honoured by the wisdom of magi. It’s about the promise of God’s loving presence in our lives.
However you might know God, by whatever name or however you might describe God, God is love. God is kindness and caring and grace and the spirit of life, not just one day but all days. That’s the thing about Christmas. The promise of that night is revealed in the life of Jesus. Sure, the teaching and preaching and healing and all the stories, yes, but the point is in the living of it. Jesus shows us the love that’s in all of us, and what great love we are capable of in our own lives.
Set aside the commercialism and the stuff for a minute. Santa’s about giving. Santa’s about the good that’s in all of us. Santa’s about kindness to others. It seems like Santa does it all in one night, but it takes a whole year. Jesus isn’t just about one night, either, but every day, every night, every moment being filled with wonder and love.