I was raised believing in Santa Claus. I think it infused a spirit of wonder into the Christmas season. But in growing up, I’ve come to think it was the wrong sort of wonder—a rootless sort of wonder that was one part magic and one part consumerism, both of which obscure Christ as the key mover of Christmastime.
Fr. Thomas Petri recently tweeted this, which caused me to reflect on this:
We put our shoes at Nativity, my grammar school, in the corridors for Saint Nicholas’s Feast Day. Dr. Chad Pecknold responded as a part of that thread with what I think is the right approach toward raising children to experience the wonder of Advent and Christmastime, without the lie at the heart of our contemporary experience of it:
Children prior to the age of reason are not owed, and certainly should be protected from, some of the tougher realities of our fallen world. It’s precisely for this reason that I think those children are owed the truth about this season of Advent—which means the truth about the person of Jesus Christ and the coming into this fallen world of the very Logos that wills our very goodness in every moment. This is a truth of truly infinite wonder that presents the child with what is wonderfully true and offers them a way of living with this true wonder throughout his whole life. In this way, a child can be given the gift of a permanent sort of protection from the cynicism, bitterness, and even dismay that too many falsely associate with adulthood and the so-called realities of life. Their joy and wonder will be rooted in the truth of Christ and the wonderful saints who point to God’s gratuitous love.
When a child’s first association with joy and wonder shortly and distressingly turns out to be a fiction, the child may reasonably conclude that precisely that sort of joy and wonder is fiction too. And the parents and family who may have forgotten at Advent the true God and his Saint Nicholas may end up reducing or even shattering their child’s ability to trust in their goodness.
This is why Dr. Pecknold’s teaching is profoundly good: Santa truly does mean saint and the saints are real, pointing to the greatest gift of God in Jesus Christ and the reason for our anticipation at Advent and the extravagance of Christmastime.