Yesterday, we read The True Story of Santa Claus by Paul Prokop. If you have a little Nicholas in your family, he will love that the main character is a boy of the same name. Nicholas wants to stay up to see Santa come. He does get to meet the jolly guy who shares a story about another boy named Nicholas who loved Jesus and promised to spend his life doing God's work.
"Sometimes, Nicholas would walk through the streets of the town bringing small gifts in Jesus' name to the poorest children. He wanted the children to have hope and to know that God really loved each of them."
The story tells how when Nicholas was a very old man, the Child Jesus appeared to him to take him to Heaven. Nicholas was concerned about the children and asked who would take care of them. "'You will,' said Jesus. 'Now you will look after the children of the whole world until the end of time.'"
This book does a wonderful job reconciling the legends surrounding the real man who walked on the earth and became a saint and the guy at the mall handing out candy canes. I know it's a growing trend among Catholics to follow the theological fashions determined by evangelical Protestants and eliminate Santa Claus. Rule #1: whatever evangelical Protestants are doing, do the opposite. Unless it's something like having tons of kids, which the Catholics did first. Then it's ok.
I really can't support the idea of eliminating all the fun out of Christmas. Remember, we Catholics are allowed to drink, dance, and go trick-or-treating. Nowhere in the Ten Commandments does it say: Thou shall not have a good time.
I think people can go overboard sometimes with Santa. Santa is used as a threat: be good or else no presents. Santa is used as a bribe: go to sleep so Santa will come. Santa, for many, becomes the whole meaning of Christmas. That doesn't make Santa bad, just abused.
I know some people are concerned that when children discover the "truth" they will doubt all the other "truths" they've been told about God, the Church, etc. I don't know. Personally, I don't tell my kids a whole lot about Santa Claus. I didn't tell them that he lived at the North Pole. I didn't tell them he had a wife or elf helpers. I have read some story books that talked about these things. But I've also read them story books about magic beans that grow into tall vines that reach to the sky, and talking bears who go for a walk until their porridge cools, and children who walk through a wardrobe into another world.
I have told them without a doubt that there was a man named Nicholas who, legends say, threw gold down chimneys where it landed in stockings hung to dry. I have told them we don't know exactly what he did for the poor and for the children because it happened so long ago, but he was loved and was named a saint, and his behavior is emulated by those who admire him.
I do remember finding out that Santa wasn't "real." My older brother clued me in. I don't know why he felt the need to do it, but he was about 10 at the time, and I really think 10 year old boys are, in general, a pretty low form of life. When I think of 10 year old boys, I think Lord of the Flies. Thank goodness, they grow up, eventually. I do remember being really upset to learn the "truth." I don't remember doubting the existance of God because of it. I don't remember feeling betrayed or lied to by my parents. Whatever disappointment I felt, I got over it. Christmas wasn't ruined, and eventually I understood it better: God works his miracles through us.
It is a superficial faith that demands the "magic" of an unseen hand. It wasn't a miracle; it was the surgeon's skill. It wasn't Divine Providence; it was good luck. It wasn't God; it was my own intelligence or talent. It's nothing special; it's just mom and dad putting the presents there.
Christmas is a special time. There is "magic" in the air. Things outside of our comprehension have happened - majestic miracles, unfathonable mysteries. A saint who transcends time and space to bring tokens of love is but a glimpse of the whole story.