Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Santa is the reason for the season. The birth of Jesus Christ and the love, hope and forgiveness that brings is the reason for Christmas. That glorious birth is why we celebrate. If the love and hope of the season could be shared and experienced every day, this world would be a better place. Merry Christmas!
Still, Santa is associated with Christmas. He is a secular symbol that helps spread the good cheer of this holiday. Santa’s roots stretch back to a 4th century Greek priest, St. Nicholas, who was known for giving secret gifts. But today, when the image of Santa comes to mind, most westerners see a big guy in a red suit with a hearty laugh and big belly. He is cheerful, friendly and generous.
This view of Santa has evolved over time. Washington Irving mentions St. Nicholas in print in 1812. Clement Moore wrote “Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1822. Norman Rockwell started drawing his various views of Santa about 1920. In 1931, Hanlon Sundblom was commissioned by Coca Cola to present Santa in its holiday advertising. Some variation of this view of Santa—as a real person not someone in a costume—has become the norm since then.
What bothered me this year was the claim by some news commentators that Santa must be a white man. There is even a report that a teacher told a student to take off a Santa hat because the kid was black and thus could not be Santa. Come again?! People making such judgments have got to be crazy. Santa is not somehow exclusive to only a few. Santa is goodness, kindness, generosity and hope. That he is often dressed in a red suit is not really the point. Santa represents the magic and wonder of the season—and is not limited to any one literal person. This view is not a new revelation. The New York Sun Editorial shared the truth about Santa in the now famous “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” back in 1897. Just the other day, A Frank Angle did a great job adding to the commentary.
For me, the truth is that Santa exists! No, not as a literal person. And no, not as the guy dressed in a red suit and playing Santa at parties and street corners throughout December. Santa is the secular image of Christmas, but he is also so much more than that. Santa is a symbol of love and hope, an encouragement of generosity and kindness, a belief in magic and tradition and sharing. As a kid, it is fun to believe in Santa and to watch expectantly for his arrival. Slouching towards Thatcham offers a great post on what this expectation looks like in the 21st century.
Once the truth about the presents being delivered all over the world in one night becomes known, Santa still exists. At that point, the older kids get to help keep the secret for their younger siblings and friends. That is fun too. And eventually, as adults, many of us take on the role of Santa. For me, the most fun of Christmas has always been playing Santa for my parents and other special people in my life. But the manifestation of Santa is not just at Christmas. There is a little bit of Santa in every donation to Salvation Army, in every helpful hand offered by the Red Cross, in every comfort provided via churches and synagogues and mosques across the land, in every random act of kindness perpetrated to friends and strangers.
The Spirit of Santa is in all of us, or at least could be if we choose to embrace love and hope and magic. Santa is not limited by race or nationality. Santa can be young or old, male or female, and any color of the rainbow. Santa does not even have to wear a red suit and say, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” All Santa has to do is be loving and caring and generous. Santa encourages all of us to be good all year long. Santa reminds us there is wonder and love in the world. If more of us would believe in Santa and act accordingly, the world would be a better place.
Besides, as one sign I’ve seen advertised states:
I believe! I believe! How about you?
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Merry Christmas! May Santa live through you throughout the new year!