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I Heard the Bells

Christmas, Santa

“[G]irls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, [… b]ut someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” - C.S. Lewis

We all remember when we grew too old for fairy tales. When we started to recognize the line between truth and fiction. For some it came naturally, for others it came as a stab that wounded us for some time. As children, our imagination is one of our greatest gifts. A gift that needs to be nurtured and taught.

C.S. Lewis believed that there was an in between period. Between recognizing that line and embracing that line. But, as he wrote in his dedication for Chronicles of Narnia, “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Seven years ago I was in the thick of being separated from Catholicism, raised with a lack of understanding of faith, only knowing rituals and tradition instead of knowing God. I questioned every tradition like a detective, shredding everything that didn’t match the Bible. Much of it was needed. The Christianity that I was coming to know had set me ablaze and I needed to do some weeding. Problem with doing weeding when you’re on fire is you have a tendency to burn things before you're able to fully understand them.

Santa is one of those traditions I attacked. I raged against the fat man, a king of childhood lies, used to twist the arm of the disobedient child into smiling and acting good for the sake of material gain. At the time my wife and I weren’t even engaged, having been together for two years, and here I was swearing we wouldn’t teach our children about that jolly northerner and his penchant to give toys to good boys.

Seven years is a long time. The fire that burns out false doctrine and bad teaching is still burning. Discernment is still one of the most important parts of who I am. However, my view of metaphor and symbolism has… matured.

Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the man that the legend of Santa Claus grew from. Read over Nicholas’ Wikipedia page sometime. He was a very amazing man. Not only an amazing man, but a follower of Christ that was even present at the Council of Nicea, fighting heresy in helping to define one of the longest lasting creeds of our faith.

So I’ll admit that I was shortsighted seven years ago. Most of what I detested of Santa was stuff that the West has added to the legends within the couple of centuries. Materialism, relativistic moralism, and a lack of grace and mercy. These were not traits of Saint Nicholas.

One of the most known stories is of a man and his three daughters. The man was unable to afford to marry his daughters off, and unless they were able to find a suitable job, they’d have to become prostitutes. Nicholas, knowing the man was too humble to take money given to him, dropped the money required to marry his daughters off in the middle of the night. This is the primary source that we have for the stockings hung on Saint Nicholas day and Christmas.

As the stories of Nicholas became legend, it was said that he had traveled north to Spain and returned during the winter bearing gifts, often dropping oranges in stockings. The oranges represented the north (Spain) as well as the bags of gold dropped off for the man and his daughters.

Through symbolism and metaphor, story and fairy tales we can teach our children many things. Disney stories weave moral truths throughout. One of the greatest parts of Frozen last year is that the love that broke the spell on Anna wasn’t from Hans or Kristoff, but from her sister. Jesus Christ taught many complex concepts of the Kingdom through the use of parables. It is my growing understanding, through my reading of Dekker, Lewis, and Tolkien over the years, that man making metaphors to explain the things of God, of Heaven, of mercy and grace, is not only something beautiful but also something so fundamental to our understanding of Jesus Christ.

So this year my wife and myself will be starting our new yearly tradition of revealing the mysteries of faith to our daughter through tales of Saint Nicholas. It is our choice to be careful to prune the story and the lore, to remove modern additions and uphold a promise I made many years ago: We will never use Santa to get our kids to behave. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. By Christ we are given both. Though we deserve death for our sin, we are given new life in Him.

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