I find it alternately confusing and amusing that some of the most emphatic defenders of keeping the Christ in Christmas want to claim Santa Claus as an important component of the Christian aspect of the holiday. Because among the fundamentalist Christians who raised me, Santa Claus was always a symbol of the secularization of the holiday. Several of the churches I attended as a kid banned images of Santa Claus from the building, and forbade the singing of any of the Christmas songs that mentioned him at any church activity.
I say churches, plural, because my family moved often during my childhood. My dad’s job in the petroleum industry leading to my oft-repeated description of growing up as “ten elementary schools in four different states.”
I remember, for instance, the “Up On the House Top” controversy. One of the churches ran a nonprofit day care on weekdays. While it was a church day care, it was a business open to any family that could pay the fees, so a lot of the kids came from families that attended different churches (or no church at all). One year of the day care’s annual Christmas pageant, in addition to the usual repertoire of “Silent Night,” “O, Little Town of Bethleham,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Away in the Manger,” “Joy to the World,” and “Jingle Bells,” one group of kids sang a version of “Up on the House Top” that included some amusing choreography.
Some of the church ladies who were not regularly associated with the day care attended the pageant, and they were not pleased. It started running around the gossip circuit in the congregation that someone had allowed Santa Claus at the day care. The tone of voice some people used, you would have thought that someone was giving the kids alcohol and cigarettes. Or even worse, allowing them to listen to rock music!
To me, I didn’t see how it was that much different than “Jingle Bells,” which is a Christmas song that doesn’t mention Jesus’ birth at all. No one ever seemed to object to that in the children’s performance. And I recall a very amusing rendition of “I’m Gettin’ Nothin’ for Christmas” at an evening Christmas concert at church that no one objected to. Not every song performed at the less formal holiday events at the church had to be a sacred hymn, obviously.
I realize that a lot of the people who believe that the War on Christmas is an actual thing are not necessarily hardcore Biblical literalist or fundamentalists. They’re a bit more casually Christian. They are the sorts of people who think that the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” actually comes from the Bible, right? They’re also the ones who can say, with a straight face, “Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, but he was not self-destructive. The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
And I get that Santa Claus gets his name from American ears hearing Dutch immigrants refer to Saint Nicholas (“Sinterklaas”) back in the 19th Century. And therefore to them Santa Claus is sort of an alias for the 4th Century Christian Bishop. But the red-suited man driving a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer and filling stockings with toys is not a Biblical character. He’s very much a secular figure.
And I’m looking forward to his visit at our house soon! Our stockings are up, our tree lights will be left on all night. I’m not sure whether we’ll be leaving him eggnog and cookies this year or if it might be sherry and pork pies. But, this liberal taoist gay man and his liberal wiccan bi husband are looking forward to tracking Santa on our computers and phones with the Norad app, watching some silly Christmas shows featuring such important Christmas characters as the Grinch, a red-nosed reindeer, and ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. And I can’t wait to see what Santa leaves in my stocking this year!
No matter what holiday you celebrate, I’d like to wish a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!