"Oh! You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town! He's making a list, He's checking it twice, He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town! He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows when you're awake. He knows when you've been bad or good, So be good for goodness sake!"
The words to that song drive me over the edge where Christmas is concerned. It's sung as some innocent children's song to get our little ones ready for the celebration, but those words are anything but innocent. They turn a made-up person into a god, and a mean and vengeful god at that.
There was a real Saint Nick, as far as we know. But his story is far from the current Santa Claus myth. The original was a man who inherited a great deal of money and gave every bit of it away in order to relieve poverty and suffering. He didn't "know when you've been good or bad." He just heard of those who needed help and used all he had to offer it. Those actions are quite fully reflective of the nature of God's love and grace for a suffering world. The words to the song above can be used to scare children into what they perceive as goodness. Santa becomes an all-present eye with all knowledge about all people who is busy tossing people, especially children, out of any hope of receiving gifts. Such words are actually threatening when taken literally. Such a distance from a God who is far, far more interesting in loving us to holiness and faithfulness in mind and heart and hands!
I think Christmas celebrations are lots of fun, and the idea of a holy saint who comes around and offers gifts to children is delightful. Such an idea helps make the bridge to recognizing a holy God who offers us the chance to become children of God and inheritors of all that God has and is. But this song and much Christmas advertising and some Christmas movies turn Santa into God rather than seeing him as a human representative of God. Santa is not God. At its joyful best, Santa represents God's goodness and generosity. At its worst, Santa is the stand-in for uncontrollable human greed because the focus is on what we get rather than what we give.
I wonder what it would be like if Santa would take children on his knee and ask them, "What would you most like to give to someone else this Christmas?" Or, "What could you do for someone this Christmas that would show them how much you love them?" If that were to become the focus, the letdown that often comes on Christmas morning as overly stimulated children who have focused only on what they get often say, "Is that all there is?" It could easily change to, "What more can I give today?" Even young children can be taught the real joy of giving, of how much fun it is to serve someone else, of the satisfaction of relieving suffering in some way.