I remember when I discovered Santa Claus was not real. I shared a room with my two sisters and our bedroom window faced our driveway. My older sister woke me up on Christmas Eve to have me look out the window. I saw my dad’s truck with a big box of gifts in the back of it. I remember being so confused as to why Santa would leave the gifts there and not come through our chimney to deliver them. As realization dawned on me that my parents were Santa, I felt disappointed and outraged that there was not a kind old man and elves that could magically give me what my parents could not. Suddenly, I understood the lyrics of the song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” Santa Claus was the dad! Before understanding came, as a child, I felt bad for any kids who saw their mom kissing someone else and thought it was a really horrible thing to sing about.
When I was in college and really seeking to understand and solidify my own faith and beliefs, I was somewhat horrified thinking back on all the things as children we were taught to believe in that were clearly not real (Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy). Was it really so different teaching children to also believe in a God they cannot see or touch and just trust that He is real, that He hears our prayers, that He knows us? As I came to have my own witnesses and testimony of God and His Son Jesus Christ, I was relieved to know that my parents had not misled me about God as they had about those other things.
My daughter was much older than I had been when she realized Santa was not real. She figured it out when she saw the same wrapping paper Santa had used in our garage. She said nothing until the next year when she told me she had a really important question for me. I was a little nervous with such a serious introduction from my 9-year old. “Mom, I know Santa isn’t real. Why do you pretend he is? Isn’t that lying?” She was even worried about confessing what she knew and if that meant she wouldn’t get presents for Christmas.
I had wrestled about introducing Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and Easter bunny to my daughter. I was peer pressured into Elf on the Shelf when everyone else she knew was having such grand adventures with their elves. Even after I had learned about Santa really being my parents, Christmas morning was still magical for me. It was a lovely bonding tradition with my siblings waking up at 4 a.m. to see all the presents under the tree. My parents had a list of things we had to do before they would get up to come open presents which included having made enough hot chocolate for everyone. Even when all six of my siblings were well old enough so that my parents shouldn’t have to stay up late to put all the gifts under the tree, we still insisted. We still woke up at 4 a.m. to open gifts. Even after we were married. So while Santa Claus may not be real, the traditions surrounding him gave me some my most cherished memories with my family and I wanted my daughter to have some of the same.
I had not actually thought about how I would explain it to my daughter. I never asked my parents about it. So when faced with the question, I surprised myself with my answer. I told her that Santa Claus gives parents the opportunity to give gifts to their children without expecting any recognition from them, but only with the expectation of giving their children some joy and because they love their children. Gabby and I had been getting “angels” from a charity with information on gifts a less fortunate child needed. We went shopping together and picked out coats, clothes, and toys. We had done this for several years and Gabby loved helping to pick out the gifts even if she never knew the child that would receive them or get any thanks. I reminded her of this and parents being Santa was a little like that. We also talked about how God gives us so much, including Jesus Christ because He loves us even to those who don’t recognize or know God. She was satisfied with this explanation and no longer condemned all parents as liars.
Christmas ultimately is about the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is celebrated and recognized by so many people in so many different ways across the world. My church has scripture with an account of a man seeing a vision of Jesus’s birth 600 years before it happened. He says this:
“And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth (definition: to pour, spill or effuse out) itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things (1 Nephi 11:20-22).”
This prophet did not understand what the love of God was until he saw Mary with the Christ child. The love of God is manifest in Jesus Christ and His willingness to not only be born, but to live, and to die as a Lamb so He can give us the gift of eternal life. We can understand and experience this love through symbols though it’s not always readily apparent. I see the love of God manifest in so many ways during the Christmas season even in traditions not directly tied to the night of His birth. The more I seek to see the love of God shedding itself abroad through Christmas traditions, the more holiness I feel. However we celebrate Christmas, whether it includes Santa or not, there is holiness and the love of God to be found and experienced.
How have you found the love of God spreading forth from your own Christmas traditions? Tell us in the comments and enter to win Strong Mom’s swag!