My 12 year old is careening his way toward the cynicism of the teenage years at a breakneck pace, and so it has become inevitable: it is time for “The Talk.” (No, not that one….. no, not that one either)
The Talk: Is Santa real?
He had been asking for a couple of years, had heard rumors at school, but I had managed to keep him convinced by pulling off magical feats of Christmas Eve wrapping and meatball eating (we leave Santa meatballs because he gets too many carbs.) But this season, his faith was waning.
So I sat him down for the talk. I got us really good hot chocolate, and I took a deep breath.
The first thing I did was read him the famous Letter To Virginia, because I think this classic letter to the editor really sums it up well. It doesn’t get much better than “he exists as sure as love and generosity.” When I was done reading, I asked him what he thought about the letter… he got it. Santa was real, but not as a person. Santa was an idea, like love. Not something you see, but still there.
But I wanted him to go deeper. So I reminded him about what he has just learned in Confirmation, about the meaning of a sacrament. A sacrament is a “visible sign that points to an invisible grace.” Having just learned this definition, we talked about how in baptism, the water is a visible sign of God’s love and a parent’s promise (both invisible). We talked about how in communion, bread is a visible sign of God’s invisible mercy. (I am his Confirmation teacher as well as his mother, the poor kid gets it 24/7.)
By this definition then, Santa is a sacrament.
Santa is the visible sign of the invisible grace, the sacrament of Christmas. Because Santa is the worldly embodiment of “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever should believe in him will have eternal life.” (John 3: 16) Santa is the embodiment of this selfless love. Santa exists so that before we can comprehend the enormity of God’s selfless love for us, we can understand Santa, a smaller visible symbol of that selfless love that we can understand.
And as we grow, and our understanding of the selfless love that we receive from God in Jesus’ birth becomes deeper, we begin to understand Santa in a different way. No, Santa is not a guy in a red suit, with elves and reindeer at the North Pole. No, Santa is not a consumer driven gift-giver. Santa is selfless love, the embodiment of the selfless love that we find in the Christmas story. And when we know this, when we understand the sacramental nature of Santa, then we must believe. We must proclaim with all our hearts that yes, indeed Santa is real. And in proclaiming our belief, there comes an obligation.
Once we know the enormity of this selfless love that comes to us at Christmas time, we must not just believe, but we must become as well. We need to take part in the selfless giving, to share with someone else, what the real (but invisible) hope, peace, love, and joy of the season really means. Because “Santa” is all of the collective hearts that embody the power of selfless giving together.
And so believing in Santa also means we need to become the ideal, maybe just for one other person. But in some way, we too need to show the world in a visible way, the invisible gift of selfless love. In what we have received, so we give. So we ended the talk together considering how we could be a visible sign of God’s invisible love. That to truly make the essence of Santa real, we have to participate in the Sacrament of selfless giving.
So we picked a person and talked about how we could get them a gift, something that they would receive not from “us” but from Santa. The sparkle of belief returned to my son’s eye, and he giggled with childlike anticipation once again. The joy of Santa was made real yet again…. in the embodiment of love and generosity and hope.
In believing… in becoming… we celebrate the sacrament of Christmas once again, with the incarnation of the selfless love that Santa makes visible.
For God SO LOVED the world… do you believe its real?