A philosophical satire on Santa Claus
by Stefano Piva
At Christmas we often think about the fat man with a beard, who rides a flying sleigh, squeezes down the chimney, and gives out gifts. And if you sneak out of bed at the right time you might even catch him having milk and cookies and kissing mama. But as we grow up reason kicks in. For me it was around the age of nine. How could one person go to so many houses, give so many gifts, eat so many cookies, and kiss so many mamas in one night?
With the passing of years came wisdom. I was now twelve. I discovered there were many Santas. Visiting different malls I realized not all the Santas were the same. So, using Platonic logic, I figured Santa must be a ‘universal’ and each Mall Santa a ‘particular’.
Another discovery furthered my ‘Santa particulars’ theory: The Santa World Congress. This is a professional association for Santas to discuss weighty matters like female Santas, working conditions, and the European Union’s attempt to standardize the length of the Santa beard. One year The Santa World Congress almost went on strike over the beard thing.
Then I found out something else about Santa. Santa only gives gifts to good children. That froze me. I knew I wasn’t good. Sure, I’d done some good things. But I knew my nature was not good. I’d never killed anyone, but I’d hated, lost my temper, and told less than the truth. I may be better than Mussolini, but that doesn’t mean I’m good.
Call me a pessimist, but I’d have to agree with G.K. Chesterton’s two word essay to an English paper asking people to respond to the question, “What’s wrong with this world?”
Chesterton submitted, “I am”.
What then do we need all these Santa particulars for? If Santa knows if we’ve been bad or good, and we’ve all been bad, wouldn’t Santa have nothing to do? Why then was I still getting gifts from Santa?
I was becoming suspicious of this Mr. Claus character. First, there wasn’t one Santa, but many, and now Santa has nothing to do because no one is good and yet we still get gifts from him. My Santa agnosticism was getting to me and I was feeling an existential crisis coming on. At that point my parents broke the news to me. They were Santa.
My breakdown was averted, but only for a moment. Now different questions flooded my mind. Why would my parents leave me gifts when they knew I wasn’t good? And, believe me, they knew I wasn’t good. Did my parents believe in Rousseau’s theory of social conditioning – try to use gifts to create the right environment to make me good? Did they see me as one of Pavlov’s dogs who, by giving me gifts, would make me salivate at their beck and call? Or maybe my parents were materialists who’d bought into the idea of a capitalistic utopia.
When I asked my parents about this they told me it was time for me to get a job. I was in college by this point.
So I cried out in despair, “If Santa’s not real, and I am not good, why are you still giving me gifts I do not deserve in the name of someone who doesn’t exist?”
I braced myself, ready to tear down their argument with the Socratic method. “It’s because we love you,” they replied. “These gifts are undeserved gifts of love!” For the first time in my life I had nothing to say. But that quickly passed.
“That still doesn’t explain why you said it came from Santa. Santa doesn’t exist!”
“But he does”, my parents responded. “We are Santa. The Santa who doesn’t exist is the one you were thinking of.”
My parents then went on to tell me that they learned about giving underserved gifts from someone else who many people have false ideas about. They learned about unmerited gift-giving from the God who gave the gift of Jesus. The God who has shown himself in time, space, and history. The God who knows we’ve been bad, and yet, demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8). Forgiveness can be found in the gift of Jesus. Love is not an ideology or a philosophy, but a person. He is the universal and the particular: fully God, fully man, three-in-one.
As Charles Wesley put it in song:
Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King.”
Just as I had many false ideas about Santa, many have false ideas about God. But as I had to realize the Santa I believed in wasn’t real, many still need to realize the god they believe in is not real. The real God is the one who gave himself to us in his Christmas gift of Jesus.
He is not the one I have conceived in my mind, but the one who has changed my mind.
Dr. Stefano Piva is the Lead Pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Richmond