For many years – probably since I began preaching – Santa Claus or Father Christmas has been a problem for me. I haven’t anything against Santa himself. After all, he was originally St. Nicholas, whose feast day is Dec. 6. If you say Santa Nicholas quickly, you will get Santa Claus. My trouble was that he overshadowed the Christ child.
Just think of the Santa Claus parade in big cities. Where does the Christ, born in a stable, fit in? Consider the Santa who reigns supreme in the stores and takes the kids on his knee and gives them toys – for which their parents have paid. If it came to a popularity contest at that moment between Santa and Christ, who would win?
And yet, the very word Christmas means Christ-time. Even when Christmas is abbreviated to Xmas, the X stands in Greek for the letters Ch. So, Xmas is the short for Christmas. It is not Santa-time.
However, last year shortly before Christmas Day, I went into Broughton’s Religious Bookstore on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. To my surprise, I spotted a statue depicting a small, but not too small, Santa kneeling before the crib. I asked Brian Broughton to explain. He handed me a very colourful book entitled, Santa and the Christ Child by Nicholas Bakewell. He said, “Sit down and read that, Father. It gives you the story.” Nicholas Bakewell is a successful producer of motion pictures. In addition, for over 30 years, he has been portraying the role of Santa Claus for children – thousands of them. But he never failed to remind the kids that Christmas is the birthday of Christ. Then, after all these years, he was inspired to write a beautiful story about Santa Claus and the Christ child.
The story begins in the first person singular. The pictures are simply beautiful. “Hello from Santa’s Village. This is Santa Claus speaking, to tell you about a sequence of amazing and unforgettable events.” Santa goes on to tell how one morning, a few weeks before Christmas, he was feeding the reindeer in the stable. To his surprise, he found a handsome young boy of about 10 asleep in the hay. The boy asked if he could stay and see how they prepared for Christmas. Santa agreed and introduced him to the elves. When he took him into the carpenter’s shop where the elves were making toys, the boy showed intense interest and asked if he could help. He displayed great aptitude and as a result of his skill, everything was well ahead of schedule. Then tragedy struck.
While out searching for a lost reindeer, Santa slipped on the ice and broke his leg. The doctor was called. He put the leg in plaster and said, “Well, that settles it. You can’t make your rounds this Christmas.” Everyone was terribly upset, except the boy. He moved into Santa’s house to look after him.” He exercised the reindeer every day and continued to make toys in the carpenter’s shop. He even made a beautiful pair of crutches, so that Santa could hobble round a bit. He had also screened off a section of the workshop into which he would not allow the elves. He had what he called “a secret project.” Elves were bursting with curiosity, but he would not let them know the secret. Even though there did not seem to be any hope that Santa could make his trip, the boy told the elves to keep working as hard as they could.
Then on Christmas Eve, the boy called the elves into the workshop and showed them the secret project. It was a beautifully constructed conveyance – like a chaise lounge, which could be attached to the back of the sleigh. They pulled it round to Santa’s house and showed it to him and the doctor. The doctor said, “That’s as good as a bed. No problem.” So, they piled the toys into the sleigh, helped Santa into the chaise lounge and away they went above the clouds. They didn’t miss a stop. The boy drove the reindeers, Santa checked the lists from his bed, the elves climbed up and down the chimneys and the entire enterprise was completed in record time. Santa was delighted and thanked the boy saying, “Without you, the children would have been without toys this year.” Then the boy said, “Santa, I know you must be tired, but can we make just one more stop?” Santa said, “Sure, anywhere you like.” The boy said, “I want to show you where I was born.”
They took off into the silent night, following a very bright star, which Santa had never noticed in all his years of travel. But what Santa did not realize was that they were not travelling through space – but back through time! Soon they landed outside a humble stable. The boy helped Santa onto his crutches and he hobbled towards the stable. Then he noticed that the boy had disappeared. He entered the stable and there, like the shepherds and wise men, he found the child with Mary, his mother. Santa dropped his crutches, fell on his knees and wept. So ends the story of the Kneeling Santa.
Of course, this story is not historically or factually true. It is a story, but it has a message for us and the message is this:
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Everything else – Santa Claus, gifts, parties, plays and dances – has a place and meaning on one condition. The condition is that, like the Kneeling Santa, these seasonal features and festivities begin annually to reawaken in us the true meaning of Christmas.
“Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say, Mary’s boy child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day. Trumpets sound and angels sing, listen to what they say, that man will live for ever more – because of Christmas Day.” This article orginally appeared in the December 1987 Interim.