By Kelly Wright
One of my earliest memories of Christmas is connected to a little country church that my family attended. Every Christmas Eve family and friends would gather at the beautifully decorated church and put on a Christmas variety show. Children would sing with jingle bells in hand, adults would do a reading or sing a solo or duet, and there would be skits, both funny and heartwarming. The evening would end with the whole auditorium singing with “Joy to the World” then all the children in the audience would be invited onto the stage where we would sing with great anticipation, “Here Comes Santa Claus.” And sure enough, after the first time through the song, the doors of the church would open and Santa would come bounding in, making his way to the stage, where he would pass out a bag filled with nuts, fruit, and peppermint sticks.
Looking back, this tradition caused a bit of confusion for me. We would sing with just as much celebration, “Joy to the World” as we would sing, “Here comes Santa Claus.” And actually, I would sing with much more excitement, the latter. On one side of Christmas was Santa Claus. I was told he was watching me throughout the year, deciding whether I was naughty or nice, if I deserved coal or a present. Since I thought of myself as a pretty good kid and I hadn’t ever received coal, this was actually my favorite side of Christmas. On the other side of the Christmas was Jesus. Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, the day we’d remember the baby in the manger and the wise men and shepherds. Like Santa, I sort of thought Jesus watched me throughout the year deciding if I was naughty or nice. But how Jesus saw me had much more of an important distinction. The way Jesus saw me determined a lot more than getting coal or a present, how He saw me determined where I’d go when I died. It was a lot for a little girl to try to figure out, especially when all I really wanted to think about was getting the Mickey Mouse Club album.
Even more confusing to me, underneath these two sides of Christmas was a much deeper question, the question I was afraid to even speak aloud: Were Santa and Jesus even real?
Do you remember that place of tension you had as a child where you wanted so badly for Santa to be real? I found it pretty easy to believe until I was five. When I was five, questions began to emerge in my young brain like, “Why are there so many different Santa’s around town?” “How does Santa get to everyone’s house in one night?” and “How does he get into our house since we don’t have a fireplace?” These questions began to cause lots of doubts. Santa’s story seemed to have a lot of holes in it, especially for a little girl who was good at overhearing adult conversations. I’d pick up on different clues that Santa was pretend and even though I’d ask my mom, she’d always confirm Santa’s existence. Eavesdropping was eventually how I found out the devastating news that there was no Santa. I was in second grade and all I wanted for Christmas was a desk. Christmas morning a beautiful desk was set up right by the tree and I was thrilled. Thrilled until I heard my grandpa ask my dad where they had gotten the desk. My dad shared the details about staying up late the night before staining it. I was devastated. As I’m recalling the story, even now I feel a bit of the shock and sadness that was in my heart that Christmas morning. I was mad at my parents and mad at Santa or I guess the idea of Santa. “Here comes Santa Claus” would never be the same.
Finding out Santa wasn’t real led to the next obvious question in my mind – Was Jesus real or was he just a made up Christmas church story?
Although I had my doubts about the Santa story, from early on, the story of Jesus felt different to me. It didn’t seem to have the holes that the Santa story had. Something deep within me believed that the story of Jesus, his birth, life, death, and resurrection was not a pretend story. Of course, I had to grapple through the years and even still at times today, with faith and doubt, but the reason for Christmas has become very one sided in my life. It’s all about God’s greatest gift. It truly is “Joy to the World, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King.”