Josh had a good and thought-provoking post about the modern Santa-deception. It got me thinking about my own experience with Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.
Perhaps it was my innocent sheltered and naive nature, but I found the Santa myth quite appealing as a youngster. So appealing, in fact, that I clung it to it long after others my age had discovered that it was no coincidence that Santa Claus and Dad had the same favorite cookies, or that Santa’s handwriting bore a striking resemblance to Mom’s. (My parents later filled me in on the details: Dad ate cookies and kept ‘watch’ while Mom delivered the goods.) Unlike many of my peers, I did not discover the truth of Santa’s non-existence on my own. I had to be told.
Indeed, I remember the night quite well. It was Christmas Eve (no joke); I was snuggled comfortably in bed. My father entered my room and closed the door in a way that meant I was either in trouble or about to receive Bad News. Now, before I continue, let me just say of my father that he was and is still a good dad and that his one fault in this instance was perhaps engaging my academic interests too closely.
“Santa Claus,” my dad began, “was a real man who lived hundreds of years ago.”
My dad knew of and had fostered my interest in history, and no doubt, the ‘historical St. Nicholas’ route seemed the best one to take.
“He was a bishop of a town in, what is now, Turkey. He practiced a life of kindness and charity, especially towards children. He died about 1400 years ago (my dad was off by a little bit here) and ever since parents have carried on his spirit blah blah blah.” I couldn’t quite hear the rest – because of my sobbing, most likely.
Of course, it being Christmas Eve and all, the details of an ancient bishop’s life passed right over me. All I heard was “Santa’s dead.” My dreams of Legos and still more Legos (I was very easy to shop for at that age) flashed before me. I eventually recovered from this shock; Legos heal many wounds.
When I was recounting this episode to my wife recently, we both got a good laugh. All in all, the damage done was superficial. I do agree with Josh on one point in particular though: when it comes to ‘the reason for the season’ in our popular culture, there’s no competing with the Elf and the Stuff he brings. On a different note: here’s what Saint Nicholas really looked like. Why isn’t this image on Coke bottles?