Posted by: jhvn | 12/20/2012

Santa and Jesus

The Family Circus - Jesus & Santa

What a great question!

Other good questions have begun to pop up on this geezer’s mental computer screen: How did Christmas get from Jesus’s birth to Santa Claus? Did Santa invent shopping malls? Did frustrated parents write the song, “You Better Watch Out” to bribe their kids to behave?

I remember hearing this song when I was about 5 years old at a school Christmas program and was scared to death about what might happen. An earlier fear gripped me on a Christmas Eve when I must have been only 3, and my parents and I spent Christmas eve at my grandparents’ house – which HAD NO CHIMNEY. Even though all the adults assured me that Santa would find a way to get in, this child barely slept that night, listening.

When he was about 4, my eldest son asked the most profound question I have heard about Santa: “Is Santa Clause a real or imaginary person?” I replied, with some trepidation, that Santa was imaginary, but that made him no less real, since our imaginations are real. My son seemed satisfied; but he has later told me that he really was crushed. (He’s always been a good actor.) I wish I’d asked him what he meant by an “imaginary person”. That would have been a good move to draw him out, and a move toward geezerhood on my part rather than jumping into my adult role of providing answers and guidance to my children. But I was only 29 years old and just getting used to being an adult and a parent all at the same time. What did I know?

How deeply we children take these mythical matters!

St. Nicholas looks back

 A real person inspired the mythical character we call Santa Claus — Saint Nicholas. Be sure to follow this link, including the section ‘The Origin of Santa Claus”. The story will fascinate you and is told far better than I could tell it here. From the available information, it appears that Santa and Jesus did go to school together. Jesus was the teacher and St. Nick was the student.

The most important question that has popped up on this geezer’s mental screen is this:

How can we move beyond the Santa that has been hijacked to increase financial profit by creating greed in children, and by growing guilt in their parents ?

This question incites our own movement from an adulthood that seeks to assuage our guilt by being “good”, to a geezerhood that nurtures the grace of giving and generosity. The story of St. Nicholas inspires just that grace, which has made him one of the most beloved of all Christian saints. The stories of Scrooge and of the Grinch work the same magic in us. Of course after they discovered the joy of generosity, St. Nick, Scrooge, and the Grinch must all have seemed weird to normal adults . But such weirdness marks true geezerhood and true humanity.

If daddy in the top cartoon could rise to his true geezerhood, he might reply, “Yes, Santa learned to give to needy children from his teacher, Jesus. What would you like to give to someone you know who is in need?”. If you let such a fantasy play out in your own imagination, you may find it possible to grow a famly circus at your home this season full of fun, and nurturing  the growth of generosity, mutual appreciation, and sense of belonging.

May your Christmas celebrations provide just such a circus, and the consequent sense of loving and being loved that is true grace.


  1. “Santa was imaginary, but that made him no less real, since our imaginations are real.” So good granddad 🙂

  2. John, thanks for this posting. I, approaching geezerhood, have now told my now grown nieces and nephews and other tangential relatives that, rather then giving them a sweater, or shirt or tie, they would never wear, I make a large contribution in their names to the Lutheran World Relief fund. This Christmas I bought two goats, a pig, a flock of geese, some bees, and a water filtering system for an African village. The sense of joy and satisfaction is overwhelming and my relatives embrace this idea with the true spirit of the season.

  3. John, a memory relating to this blog topic came back to me just a few months back when I was pondering why my adult son is struggling so much with spiritual faith in God. The memory was of the time I told him Santa is not real. He was just 7, and I was afraid he’d hear the truth from his older sister or a classmate. I wanted it to come from me so I could help with questions. I didn’t anticipate his response. As a matter of fact, that response was imprinted on his sister’s mind, who was with us at the time, as she and I shared it together over the phone 15 years later this past September! My son, Johnny, was crushed. He became inconsolable. There were no questions, just crying himself to sleep that night. How could a 7 year old verbalize such disappointment and grief! The memory brings tears to my eyes even now, and I wished I’d never lied to him and been caught up in the magic of the tradition. Us adults can be short sighted in the joy of watching our kids anticipate Santa with wonder in their eyes. Looking back, it seems almost cruel to attribute Christ’s nature, character and supernatural powers to a fictional character, then inform your child there is no Santa Claus. It seems to me I did a great damage to his fledgling faith. At the very least, I should have waited till he was older and prayed he didn’t hear prematurely. Some children are way more sensitive than others. A day after I had this revelation, I was at a “free” yard sale and came across a paper mache Santa head in the shape of a star. Sounds odd, but it is beautifully painted, three dimensional, and about two thirds the size of a football. I brought it to Johnny when I went to NJ to visit him. I gave it to him and we had “the talk” about Santa again when he was 22. I felt I needed to make amends. The discussion opened up conversation about God and the real Santa being Jesus, with real spiritual gifts and power that go way beyond even what Santa could do- through the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God and the best gift ever in the gift of the love of Christ come into this world! I felt grace flow and a little healing in my son’s heart take place and mine too. I really appreciate you bringing this topic to us readers, John…Blessings and Merry Christmas, Robyn

  4. If daddy in the top cartoon could rise to his true geezerhood, he might reply, “Yes, Santa learned to give to needy children from his teacher, Jesus. What would you like to give to someone you know who is in need?”. If you let such a fantasy play out in your own imagination, you may find it possible to grow a famly circus at your home this season full of fun, and nurturing the growth of generosity, mutual appreciation, and sense of belonging.

    Excellent John!

    I believe you sometimes follow articles on Tikkun, yes? Did you happen to catch the recent, “Whose War on Christmas? The Corrosive Power of Cheer and Commerce”?

  5. I had “lunch” this week with a friend to read the book Alone Together. Chapter 6 is about robots in nursing homes. Yes, they are in use. My friend thought this took us one more step away from God. I thought it brought us one step closer. Preaching about it this week. Fill you in at a breakfast.

    • I read the intro and one or 2 chapters of that book. I’ll be interested to learn how you feel that robots bring us closer to God.


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