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  • Edwin Shank

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus

A friend of ours was shopping with her almost-4-year-old daughter a few weeks ahead of Christmas. A well-meaning cashier asked the little girl if she was ready for Santa Claus to come.

The child looked up into the cahier's face and innocently replied, “No, we are Christians. We don't believe in Santa Claus.”

Of course, the cashier was embarrassed and said to the girl’s mother, “Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t know that you people don’t celebrate Christmas.”

To which the mother replied. “That’s OK! Actually, we do celebrate the birth of Christ. But, like she said, we don’t celebrate Santa Claus.”

This brief exchange between these three captures some of the questions and misunderstandings that swirl around our plain people over Christmas season.

If you stick with me, I’ll explain about plain people and Santa Claus.

What is Christmas all about in popular culture? Flying reindeer, magical sleighs, elves, gift-stuffed stockings over the mantle or under the tree, portly red-clad gentlemen with white beards squeezing down the chimney flue.

When people hear that we plain people don’t take part in or teach our children any of the above, they at times are genuinely confused like this cashier. “Oh, I didn’t know you don’t celebrate Christmas.”

To us, Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, Judea. (Luke 2) This special moment, when Jesus came to this earth may not be the greatest moment in God’s salvation plan. (The greatest moment occurs about 33 years later at Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.) But ‘the Earthly birth of The Heavenly Son of God’ is still special. Nothing like it ever happened before. There’s been nothing like it ever since. Nor will there ever be anything like it in the future.

The reason we plain-folk Christians do not celebrate Santa Claus is easy to explain. It is simply that Santa and the surrounding elves, sleighs, reindeer etc. has nothing at all to do with the birth of Jesus. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

I hesitate to be too direct here because I do want to be sensitive.

I do respect how deeply cultures outside of the plain people also hold traditions. And to many of you, the tradition of Santa Claus carries especially warm, nostalgic memories from your childhood. I understand that. Childhood and innocence and the memories are precious.

But please think along here and try to understand we plain people as well.

We come from a culture of truth-no-matter-what. It is unthinkable for us to tell our children something other than the truth.

And Santa Claus is not the truth. We all know it. Santa Claus is a lie. It is a culturally accepted untruth that culturally compliant, culturally conformed parents collectively tell their unsuspecting children. Our culture wants to call it something else, but let’s be honest. We know.

We plain folks are not known to be the authorities on sociology nor how prevailing cultures and societal pressures and norms positively or negatively affect faith and morals in youth.

But it would seem to us that it does not take an expert nor an authority to understand that telling children an untruth, even a culturally accepted untruth, is not wisdom which is from above.

Our people have for a long time been suspicious that the Santa deception could very likely negatively affect a child’s perception of faith for life.

It’s almost like this cultural acceptance of an untruth intentionally told to children everywhere was designed by a mastermind specifically targeting the destruction of the innocent faith of a child.

Think about it.

In popular culture, children are taught by their parents to believe in Santa. And if they have ‘Christian’ parents, to also believe in God and Jesus and angels and heaven. 

And children do believe. All of it. Why not? They trust adults. They trust their parents. They trust their grandparents. And they should.

But then one fateful day, often around 7 or 8 years old, their childlike faith and trust and belief world comes crashing down around their ears. They discover that Santa was all an elaborate scam... an untruth to be foisted intentionally on the simple and childish ones. Ones too small and too unwise to be ‘in the know.’

Especially ones too small to think for themselves.

Once the children ‘have their eyes opened’, they feel like fools for believing. They feel grown up now that they are not so silly to believe anymore.

And immediately, now that they have passed into the grown-up’s world, where trust and faith and belief are obviously silly, they are welcomed warmly and initiated into taking their part in the deception too. Now it is their turn to make fools out of the childlike faith of the other ‘still little’ ones.

It would seem to be only natural for a child to wonder if the other supernatural things they have been taught might also be elaborate myths. Maybe they are also deception schemes but only on a deeper level? Maybe as they grow up, they will find out this other Jesus and God and Bible stuff were also untrue... untruth myths just waiting for their inevitably maturing minds to eventually see through and debunk and discard.

I want to be clear that I don't have first-hand experience of how this affects children.

Maybe some of you who have experienced it could share your memories of what it felt like to you as a small child when your trust was broken. What did it feel like when you first realized that your parents had deceived you about Santa? And not only that, but your grandparents and aunts and uncles, maybe even your preachers were in on it?

It seems to me that it could have been a blow to faith and trust that may have seeded cynicism.

Is it possible that the seemingly unsurmountable struggle that many in our nation have with holding onto a simple faith is because their child-like tendency toward faith was crushed at a very young age?

Was it stolen from them at an age almost too young to remember?

Just some thoughts to ponder this Christmas.

As for me and my house and the households of our people... we will keep Christmas about the birth of Jesus Christ. The One who came to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men. The One who came to save His people from their sins. The One who came as A WAY in a manger. 

Blessings until next time...

Your plain Mennonite Christian friend,

Edwin Shank

NOTE: Continue reading with the next post in this series: What DO Mennonites do for Christmas?

“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”  - Jesus Christ – circa AD 32 - Luke 18:16-17

P.S. Our people are aware that Dec 25th likely is not the actual day of Christ's birth. We do know that some folks, out of protest for this 'wrong day of the year' will not have anything to do with Christmas. We humbly acknowledge that the 25th may not be the right day, but we believe we still can respectfully and reverently reflect on the birth of Baby Jesus even so.

About the Title:

As you likely know, the title of this blog post is the inverse of the famous reply by the editor of The Sun, a New York City newspaper, in 1897. A little 8-year-old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon had written the following question to him.

Dear Editor,

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth: Is there a Santa Claus?

~ Virginia O'Hanlon

In the editor's eloquent reply, he at one point gently reassured the trusting, innocent 8-year-old with these words. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

The editor's reply is an amazing study of culturally acceptable untruth spun skillfully and beautifully and couched in persuasive words all to play his expected grown-up role in the child's further deception.

P.S. Feel free to share our emails in any way you want. Food for the Soul posts are free for all. We do not copyright any of our material nor are we possessive of its use. Freely we have received... so freely we give! Questions? We welcome them! We can't promise to personally answer each, but we will try to address your question in future post. And we just may get back to you personally, too.


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