It was pizza night at Grandma’s house, a week before Christmas. Everyone was there – my uncle and two aunts, my mama and daddy. And of course there was the bevy of cousins scattered throughout each brightly lit room.
My brother was the youngest of the bunch at the time. Four years old with big eyes, ridiculously long eyelashes and warm brown hair in an early ’90s bowl cut.
The pizza guy was young and asked the routine Christmas question as he handed my dad the pizza boxes above Zach’s little head.
“What’s Santa going to bring you for Christmas?”
Tiny, skinny Zach looked up at him squarely.
“Nothing. Santa Claus is dead.”
The pizza man’s face froze and my dad couldn’t quite muffle his guffaw. This wasn’t exactly how my parents had planned it…
If there really were a king and queen of Christmas, my parents were that royalty. When I was the four year old of the family and my brother still a tiny newborn, I laid awake long after my parents crept to bed in the wee hours of Christmas morning. I was certain – certain – I heard Santa’s sleigh landing on the rooftop and I knew those must have been jingle bells dancing on the edges of his red suit.
Much to my delight, Santa Claus had managed to fit down the pipe of our wood burning stove, leaving muddy boot prints on the carpet, crumbling the cookies I’d left him, gulping the milk and leaving a rosy-lipped baby doll beneath the tree. He even fed Rudolph the large orange carrot I’d set beside the cookie plate and Rudolph had, in turn, left his own trail of carrot bits near the front door and outside on the doorstep.
Little did I know, at four years old, that my grandparents had helped fill our cupboards that cold 1990 winter and that the baby doll’s diaper bag left for me by Santa had been sewn from scrap fabric by my mama a few days earlier and filled with my own baby girl clothes.
To me, it was all too good to be true.
To me, it was the best Christmas ever.
A few more years into my childhood and my parents were hearing the arguments.
Jesus is the reason for the season.
Santa takes the place of Jesus.
Good parents don’t lie to their children!
If you mix up the letters to Santa’s name, what do you get? Satan.
We read books about the real Saint Nicholas and my brother and I knew the story of the kind man who became a legend for his selfless love and generosity. We knew our gifts came from our parents and we delighted in the stockings they filled for us on Christmas Eve. Our family sought the real sources of our various traditions and set up our Nativity scenes lovingly. One year when we were tiny, my mama invited friends for a “Jesus Birthday Party.”
But soon the arguments were stronger and our friends weren’t putting up Christmas trees any longer because, they said, trees set up in homes had pagan roots. We left our Santa Claus ornaments in their boxes and the cross stitched pictures of the jolly elf stayed off our walls. We decorated our tree but a friend’s daughter caught her breath and hid her eyes upon entering our home one December.
“You’ll have to understand,” her mother explained in sugary tones. “She’s just having a difficult time. She simply doesn’t understand why a family she looked up to as so godly would have a Christmas tree in their living room.”
Small ears listened as parents rolled the issue in conversation and pastors preached the evils of worldly celebrations.
We learned to step lightly during holiday time, because one family didn’t do stockings and the next family didn’t do trees and the other family simply skipped the whole thing altogether because Jesus wasn’t born in winter anyway and where does the Bible even say to celebrate His birth?
The topic, as they say, was hot. Smokin’ hot.
Well meaning adults asked what Santa had brought us and we quipped lightly, “Santa doesn’t come to our house! We celebrate Jesus!”
Smug at seven years old.
I thought the debates would have blown over or been resolved by now, some twenty years later. But apparently some wars wage on.
Someone said it a few days ago, on Facebook or Twitter, “Parents, if you lie to your children about Santa, how do you expect them to believe you about Jesus?”
I don’t know all the ins and outs of Christmas celebrations, nor do I know exactly where the lines are drawn between Holy Nativity and cultural holidays.
But I do know this.
I’ve never met an adult who told me the reason he has a hard time believing Christ is because his parents told him about a red suited gift-giver who turned out to be as real as pixie dust.
Instead, I talk to adults every single day who struggle with the Truth of Jesus because they spent their young years listening to Christians cut His body to pieces over trees and ornaments and brightly wrapped packages.
What of the truest reason for this season, friends?