By Craig Funston
You’ve just read the title of this column and you assume the worst: Has Funston, you say to yourself, gone batty? Have his students driven him around the bend, finally? (Well, “I don’t think” and “maybe.”)
Before you rush out to buy me something for my mental breakdown, hold on. Let me start with what I don’t mean, as some things are best explained by what they’re not.
When I speak of Santa Claus, I am not—I repeat, Not—speaking of some fat guy in a red suit and white beard that defies the laws of gravity, environment, time zones, and AirMiles. Nor am I commenting on his ability to zip around the world on a sleigh, being pulled by a herd of reindeer with goofy names and red noses.
No, Santa is a figment of some ad agencies imagination, no matter what historical roots he has. I understand that there may be a Saint Nicholas from western Europe (Holland) a century or two ago, but that guy bore little resemblance to this guy.
So, no, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus.
You will notice that I said something about the “spirit” of Santa, not Santa himself. In fact, I suggest to you that one reason that the myth of Santa is so prevalent these past few decades is because of the lack of the spirit of Santa.
This spirit includes the following (and you may want to add more later):
1. The spirit of Santa is about being there–that mature, well-weathered friend who come around just to be present. He looks like the embodiment of happy wisdom and seasoned life skills. Today, he may be represented by those persons we call grandparents, favourite uncles or aunts, or just long-time friends. There is something inherently special about people who come into our lives simply to be there, even if it’s only once a year. They stay around but not for too long, are upbeat but not too goofy. They are a safe and soothing presence in our lives.
2. The spirit of Santa is about giving—giving time, money, presents, even a listening ear. It is so much easier to face the day or the problem when surrounded by giving people. I know for myself that I enjoy being around people who are like that. And I like to think I do that for others.
3. The spirit of Santa is about meeting felt needs. Once the baubles are in the wastebasket, the tinsel is on the floor, and the presents are returned to Walmart, there is still an emptiness at Christmas that presents and turkey can’t fill. The spirit of Santa is a person, not a thing; it’s relationships, not things.
4. The spirit of Santa is about everything that is real and genuine; thus, it can be copied, counterfeited, and captured by those who want to use it to their own advantage. We see that today, and it’s one of my motivations to write about it now. Even if there was a historical figure, it’s unfortunate that forces at odds with that fact have hijacked the meaning of that person and have turned him into something quite different.
One of the challenges of loving history, theology, and accuracy, is that it often produces a counter-perspective on life’s customs today. Many of you may have an idea where I am going with this, and I welcome your measured (dis)agreement with me. Just make sure you follow the same rules that I do, namely, base your opposition on history, theology, and accuracy.
You see, Santa is a counterfeit of something (better stated, someone) very real. Or better, the myth is the counterfeit, but the spirit is not counterfeit. As stated a few paragraphs before, Santa’s presence—no, Maurice, not Santa’s presents—reveals that there are some heart-felt humanity issues at stake here, often revealed at (but not limited to) the Christmas season. Part of this is because of the excessive emphasis on fun, family, and friends.
Yes, I believe there was a something resembling today’s Santa, but I don’t go to Holland to find him. I go to Israel. In terms of disciplines, I use history, geography, astronomy, theology, and economics to confirm everything. I see some daring similarities of what the spirit of Santa is with the one I’m referring to, and I find it a little unnerving. Or maybe that would be exciting.
Do what you want to do with the myth of Santa; just don’t forget to embrace the spirit of Santa. If so, your world will be a better place for it, all year-round.