“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!”
(Revelation 1:18a NIV)
“Dad, is there really no such thing as Santa Claus?”
My older daughter, Amy, then six years old and in the first grade, was sitting on the living room couch looking straight ahead. She was obviously trying to avoid eye contact with me. Heather, her three-year-old sister immediately stopped playing. She stood straight and quiet, suddenly very concerned.
Amy continued. “Ashley said that her mommy told her Santa Claus isn’t real, that he’s just made up. Is that true, Dad?”
I knew that Ashley’s parents had a strict “no Santa Claus” philosophy about Christmas. They wanted to make sure their children clearly understood the true meaning of Christmas.
I admired and respected their conviction, but I had believed in Santa Claus as a kid and finding out the truth later on didn’t cause me any psychological trauma or make me lose my faith in the reality of Jesus. I figured it would be much the same way for my kids. Only, my wife really liked to perpetuate the Santa fantasy.
Danni loves Christmas time and starts gearing up for it in November. By Thanksgiving Day she has Christmas music playing over the stereo and the movie, “White Christmas,” starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, playing on the T.V. When our kids were young, talking about Santa Claus was her way of getting them as excited about Christmas as she was. That was about to change.
I’ve always tried to give honest answers to my children’s honest questions. The year before Amy had asked me where babies came from. I spent the better part of a day explaining it to her – mainly because everything I said prompted another question I’d have to tactfully answer. “But, how did Mommy get the egg in her tummy? If I eat eggs, will I have a baby?” Why couldn’t I have just told her that the stork brings babies?
Of course, having gone through that experience brilliantly prepared me for the Santa Claus question. Piece of cake, right? Riiiiight.
I explained to Amy and Heather that the real Santa Claus was a man named Saint Nicholas who was born three hundred years after Jesus. He became the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. Godly and kind-hearted, he would give gifts to poor children at Christmas to remind people of the greatest gift of all – Jesus – God’s gift to us poor sinners. After Nicholas died people kept giving gifts to their children and to each other. The Dutch brought the custom to America. Their name for St. Nicolas was Sinter Klaas, which was Americanized to “Santa Claus.”
Brilliant! My children listened to me with rapt attention. I am a master communicator. Just then Danni came home from work.
It was three days before Christmas and school was out for the holidays. Danni walked into the door humming “Jingle Bells,” and chimed in glee, “Are you girls excited about what Santa is going to bring you for Christmas?”
Amy, still motionless on the couch, and still looking straight ahead, said matter-of-factly, “Santa Claus is dead.”
“Wh, what?!?” Danni gasped. “Who told you that?”
“Daddy told us Santa Claus died.”
Three-year-old Heather then burst into tears, “O Mommy! Santa died! SAN – sob, sob – TA – sob – DIED!”
So much for “Mr. Master Communicator.” All my kids got from my brilliant explanation was that Nicholas had died. The look Danni shot me suggested that I might be next.
“But Jesus still lives, girls,” I said, “And He’s the real reason we celebrate Christmas. If we give and receive gifts at Christmas to remember Jesus as the greatest Christmas gift of all, then, we also honor the memory of Saint Nicholas. Besides, because God gave us Jesus, Saint Nicholas is with Him in heaven right now!”
Great save, huh? Well, almost.
It remained a bit tense in the house that evening and the kids didn’t want me to tell them a bedtime story that night. They probably thought I would kill the Easter Bunny, too.
Christmas morning, however, put everything right. Gifts were opened. Toys were enjoyed. Excitement reigned. All was well. Well, almost.
Later that morning our neighbor’s little four-year-old daughter, Michele, came to play with Amy and Heather. The first thing she asked them when she walked in was “What did Santa bring you for Christmas?”
There was a brief silence. Then, I heard both my girls say in unison, “Santa’s dead.”
I went for a walk.
Death entered into this world when the first man, Adam, sinned against God. Through Adam, death spread to every person (Rm. 5:12). But, God gave us the gift of Jesus to save us from the curse of sin and death. Jesus, fully God, became fully man. He was born as a man. He lived as a man. And, Jesus died as a man for all mankind. But, death could not hold Him!
He was raised from the dead and now reigns eternally as “the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). Jesus conquered death with life and now we can live forever with Him. The gift of Jesus is the gift of life.
He has given us this gift. In the spirit of Christmas, let’s follow the example of Saint Nicolas and let’s give the gift of life to others. Then, they also can celebrate with us the greatest gift of all – the LIVING Son of God.
© Paul R Downing