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The Rev. Christy Thomas: Santa a fun fable, but God a whole other story

I love Christmas music. The great hymns and classical pieces fill my soul and some of the other lighter pieces add a nice touch of frivolity to the season. But I have one major gripe.

A few days ago, I was idly listening to some Christmas music on TV while halfway engaged in another task.

Suddenly the words to a song penetrated my distracted brain.

The words were, “He’ll be here with the answer to prayers that you made through the year. They’ll be yours if you’ve done everything you should extra special good.”

Startled, I glanced up in time to get the name of the song (“Everyone’s Waitin’ for the Man with the Bag”) and looked up the words to make sure I heard them accurately.

I did.

The “he” referred to in this song is Santa Claus. Santa, the one who answers our prayers.

Now, this is a particularly bad holiday song for a lot of reasons. I’d never even heard it before. Doubt if most of us have.

Don’t buy it.

Nonetheless, it does express a disturbing sentiment: Santa knows everything, has magical powers, can make you happy and your dreams come true.

In other words, Santa is pretty close to God or at least what we’d like God to be.

I am not a complete curmudgeon.

I think it is a fun to do Santa make-believe, to tell the story of that great and generous saint who inspired the story, and to read with delight the classic’Twas the Night Before Christmas.

I simply don’t want to see Santa confused with Jesus, particularly in the minds of small children.

The whole “You better be good, you better watch out” thing has become a religion of its own.

I’ve actually seen parents get more upset when their children quit believing in Santa Claus than they do when these same children declare disbelief in God.

By the way, I am not complaining about the commercialization of Christmas.

I have many friends whose livelihood comes from the retail world. Holiday shopping makes or breaks their businesses.

We live in an economy supported primarily by consumer spending rather than, for example, manufacturing or agriculture. We need to spend to stay afloat.

I am also not campaigning to “put Christ back in Christmas.”

The essence of Christmas is found in its name, a shortened version of “Christ Mass,” that holy celebration and acknowledgement of the centrality of Christ to Christianity.

We can’t take Christ out of Christmas. Don’t need to put him back in.

I also don’t care when I hear “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” This is a holiday time, and those who don’t celebrate the religious holiday of Christmas but who still “Christmas” shop deserve sensitivity.

My problem is this: When we teach that Santa is like God, or is God, as is the case in this awful song, we do a terrible disservice both to the name and reputation of God and to the children who buy into this “gonna make my dreams come true” idea of God.

This then becomes my plea to all who shape the spiritual world of children (that, by the way, is every single person who comes in contact with or influences children in any way): have fun with the Santa story, but make it clear that this is make-believe, like Peter Pan or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Cinderella or any other well-loved children’s story.

Encourage the magic and the generosity that flows from the sweetness of this story. Just don’t turn Santa into God.

Santa Claus is a fun fable. The Holy Creator God is a whole other story.

Let us ask, “How do I want the children we influence to be shaped spiritually? What happens when we teach something we know is just a story to be actually true?”

Let’s be wise and have fun. Happy holidays!

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at