menu

MEET THE TEAM

CULTIVATING

OUR MISSION

THE CULTIVATING PROJECT

KIND WORDS

Cultivating Team

Our Story

meet

read

Back to Menu

04 / CHRISTMAS

search

I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

Yes, Virginia – I still believe in Jolly Old Santa Claus

December 4, 2015

I posted this piece originally three years ago. Reading back through it I find that it is still as true to me now as it was then. However, to offer a new note of context I would like to add something from Steve Bell today and give you a glimpse of understanding about the history of St. Nicolas from whom the figure of Santa Claus developed in our cultural traditions. The Feast of St. Nicolas of Myra is a thoughtful review of the basic facts of the historic figure of St. Nicolas and gives us some thoughts on how we might more truly carry out the intent of Christmas. (I highly commend to you Steve’s marvelous Pilgrim Year. It is an extraordinary multi-media journey through the Christian year and there is really nothing else like it.) While Steve’s piece about St. Nicolas is very different in focus and tone than my reflections here, we share a common value of loving the Triune God and a life-long desire to keep Christmas well. 

 



 

Let me preface what I am about to share by saying that I devoutly believe that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of God, who gave up Heaven, became flesh and blood like us and came to live among us, one day to die for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God the Father.  Augustine said it beautifully when he wrote “The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of men may become the sons of God.”   Christmas is holy and sacred – wrapped always in mystery that we may sometimes experience but likely not comprehend fully in this world. All that I am hinges on this event in history. All that you are does, too. There is no other day of the year that carries deeper personal significance to me and I suspect that until The Day of His return it will remain so, whether I celebrate it with a house full of family or homeless and alone on a street corner.

A discussion has been raised of late in our house about how to discuss Santa Claus in context of Christmas. There are family questions about the virtue of not “lying” to children about Santa in order to avoid the inevitable disenchantment that comes with the discovery that he does not “exist” and the earnest desire not to confuse Santa’s identity with Jesus’. These are good questions to consider and important ones to ask as accountable Christian parents. I applaud all those careful-hearted, thoughtful ones who truly weigh what to teach their children. If only all parents were so inclined!

That being said, when this issue comes up I tremble a little in my heart because I know that I am being called to step on to sacred ground.  I personally can never speak of Santa without a deep sense of holiness, and I do mean that. As a child who grew up fatherless and in desperate conditions, the only view I was afforded of men was limited to men who were distant and cold, those who were unfaithful to their wives and children, to those who were violent and practiced evil things. In the midst of those bleak years the great God of the universe intervened for me in the form of books, and one in particular – a beautiful children’s book titled Jolly Old Santa Claus. It was written by Mary Jane Tonn and illustrated by the remarkable artist George Hinke.

It is hard for me to describe the power and the life long influence that single, thin picture book had on me or how deeply it spoke about transcendent beauty and goodness to a child living in poverty and neglect. It is one of the great treasures of my childhood. The picture of Santa marveling at the glass ornaments still lingers with me as my introduction to visual wonder and when I see bubble lights on the Christmas tree I still associate the same sense of magic and wonder to them that I first experienced in this picture.

Those first visions of Jolly (happy and kind) Old Santa Claus were also the first forms I connected to God the Father.

As a child I was not blessed to be part of a church family or exposed to Christian influences.  Those pictures were my first associations with a man who was happy and kind, powerful and good, full of wonder. And love. It was also my first vision of a happy marriage, something at my tiny age I knew absolutely nothing about.

Many books and paintings, poems and movies later I encountered something that gave a particularly piercing description of this same deep sense of holy wonder. That description is the famous editorial piece titled “Yes, Virginia – There is a Santa Claus“, written Sept. 21, 1897 by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church then writing for New York’s Sun Newspaper.  I have yet to read a more eloquent account of the mystery and wonder that are the essence of who we call Santa Claus. At the heart of this extraordinary piece is this passage:

“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Last year at my request my friend, Malcolm Guite, very kindly and graciously recorded his reading of “Yes, Virginia”. It is my delight I am able to share that with you here.

 

Few pieces in all of literature affect me so deeply as this. It says in finer, clearer, truer words than I have been able to master, what I feel and recognise as saving truth.

I met Jesus when I was a pagan child and pagan though I was, He was no less the Son of God nor His Father any less God the Father because He came to me wearing the kind face of Santa Claus.  

We learn little truths that give way to greater truths. “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin….” Zechariah 4:10.

I reconcile beliefs that I hold sacred from childhood that stand resolute in the face of logic with the understanding that much of what we know and believe to be true is not in fact logical or “provable”.  Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection each have elements to them that absolutely outstrip the boundaries of proof. Yet I do not need “proof” to believe that He lives, and believing it does not make me foolish or stunted. What is eternal and holy is so whether our minds can define it or not. Their very holiness and being outside of logic is what makes them the more true and real. C.S. Lewis describes being unshackled from the burden and limits of “adult” beliefs when he wrote “Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence…. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. (On Three Ways of Writing for Children, from On Stories)

Now some of what once gave me a sense of wonder has changed, but the hunger for wonder has remained. Certain things have lingered, deep stained with meaning, meaning so deep, so ancient my eyes sting with the recognition. I am not ashamed of believing still in Santa and I know perfectly well who puts the gifts under the tree and fills the stockings. I am not remotely ashamed that I believe in fairies and with all my heart I expect that the God who made me will bring me to where they live when I go home to Heaven.  He is a God far great enough to wrap His great wide arms around such marvels. The magic of such creations is His rightful domain and His alone.  He is no less holy or awesome because there is a twinkle in His eye.  May you encounter that very twinkle this Christmas and your heart be indeed made glad!

 



Vintage-rose-etching2

This post was originally published in 2012, and again in 2015 under the same title. I am sharing it again for the benefit of new readers who have not read it before as well as for those who want to read it again.

It is my prayer for you that you will encounter holy wonder during this season of Christmastide and your heart will be made merry.

Every blessing and grace to you!



 

 

Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner based in Colorado. She is editor-in-chief of the online quarterly magazine Cultivating the  Good, True, & Beautiful, and is founder of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the spiritual formation and discipling creative believers. She and her husband Peter run a thriving environmental and engineering firm and try to keep up with their rambling house and gardens called House on the Way. Lancia loves nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis; drinks strong black coffee with whipped coconut oil and cinnamon; and sincerely hopes in her lifetime to reach zero in her inbox!

Lancia E. Smith

comments

  1. Kathleen Overby

    December 25th, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Like Rose says in Enchanted April about the Oleander bush sprouting from the cane…..”It doesn’t matter, it’s such a pretty story.” 🙂 This was a piece of loveliness today. I like to be full of wonder. Often. As in frequently. 🙂

  2. Abby McAllister

    December 14th, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Loved the reading by Mr. Guite. Really special. Thank you for this whole piece.

  3. Lancia Smith

    December 14th, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Abby, I am so glad that you enjoyed the reading by Malcolm Guite. That is very special to me as well. Merry Christmas!

  4. Jeff Goins

    December 18th, 2014 at 8:13 am

    this is excellent.

  5. Lancia Smith

    December 18th, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Thanks so much, Jeff! I am grateful for your response and appreciate you so much! 🙂

  6. Jeff Goins

    December 18th, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Love the new blog!

  7. Waiting on the Word for Advent | Lancia E. Smith

    November 11th, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    […] Along with the beautiful picture book titled Jolly Old Santa Claus which I have written about earlier (and you so generously made the recording of “Yes, […]

  8. SandRa Lee

    December 5th, 2015 at 8:14 am

    I just wrote this poem while reading your post:

    A Child Delights in the Mystery and Wonder of Christmas

    How can a joy-filled man
    Descend from up above
    With so many treasures
    For those who in
    Him do believe
    How does he know my name
    And know the great desire
    Within my hoping heart

    A small offering of gratitude
    I’ve set apart for him
    In the silence, I listen
    For a sign of his arrival
    I am restless
    Wanting to see
    A glimpse of him
    To know for certain
    That he is real

    I know some people doubt
    Their eyes have become old
    And faded,
    Jaded
    But I believe
    I believe in Christmas
    I believe in Christ

  9. Joy Lenton

    December 5th, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Lancia, I love your perspective on Santa Claus and the way you centre on wonder being intrinsic to the soul, whether we are young in years or simply young at heart. The veil covering the unseen world has its thin places. Maybe Santa Claus can be that for both adult and child as they awaken to wonder in their midst? I hope so. Thank you (and Malcolm) for this insightful post which I relish reading for the first time.

  10. Patricia Conneen

    December 5th, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    “….but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”

    Thank you for these wonderful images, the snowfall and the reminder of these true and beautiful words.

  11. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    December 5th, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    “Christ our Lorde is full exceeding merrie.” I don’t know who first wrote that (though Chesterton quoted it), but I kept thinking of those words as I read your post here. Santa Claus was an icon for you through which you glimpsed God. Thank you for sharing these words, Lancia. I have much to ponder.

  12. Lancia E. Smith

    December 6th, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    What a great line to connect with this piece, Kimberlee!

    The poem that line comes from, I believe, is titled “Temper in October” by V. L. Edminson. The whole poem is this:

    He rode with furious speed to Broken Edge, and he was very angry, very small,
    But God was kind, knowing he needed not a scolding,
    nor a swift unpleasant fall,
    Or any kind of high reproach at all.

    “It matters not,” said Reason and Good Sense, “absurd to let a trifle grow immense.”
    “It matters very much,” said Busy Brain, “you cannot be content and calm again, when you are angry in a Righteous Cause.”
    “Poor queer old waxy,” laughed the hips and haws.
    “God has a sense of humour,” said a ball of gold inside a spindle berry
    “And Christ our Lord is full exceeding merry.”

    He lingered in the lane at Broken Edge.
    Bryony berries burned in every hedge.
    Snails in the deep wet grass of fairy rings
    Told him of unimaginable things.
    Love was in all the colours of the sky –
    Love in the shadows of the high blue hills.
    Oh fool! How blind and earthbound so to grieve!

    He turned his horse. Through level sunset beams
    He saw a tiny little road that curled and climbed,
    elusive through a sky of dreams.
    His anger over broken edge was hurled,
    to shatter into nothing on a gust of wind
    That brought the twilight to the trees.
    The soft October dusk hiding the chestnuts in the squirrels store
    Heard a low murmur, spoken on his knees.

    “Lord…you have made a very perfect world.
    Don’t let me spoil it. Ever…any more!”

  13. Lancia E. Smith

    December 6th, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    You are most welcome, Patricia. Thank you as ever for reading along with me and keeping company with us!

  14. Lancia E. Smith

    December 6th, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Joy, you are most welcome. I am delighted you read it for the first time and that it speaks to you in some good way. Wonder is one of the most elusive of experiences and yet I believe the hunger for it marks us as different than all else in creation. I pray that you will be met with wonder in your reading and have more of the blissful encounters, however fleeting they may be, with the thin places where Heaven hovers near to this good earth. Blessings to you and welcome to Cultivating!

  15. Lancia E. Smith

    December 6th, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    SandRa, thank you for sharing this lovely response! I see you are a poet! You are in good company here. Many blessings to you and welcome indeed to Cultivating! 🙂

  16. Lancia E. Smith

    December 6th, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you, friend!

  17. linmalki

    December 20th, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Thank you; I have told the real Santa Claus story over the years, and hope you don’t mind if I share the link to what I posted on our church’s blog this year:
    https://ncflife.blogspot.com/2017/12/happy-st-nicholas-day-by-linden-malki.html

  18. What is Christmas to Become? | The Cultivating Project

    December 8th, 2018 at 11:28 am

    […] sitting by the twinkling Christmas tree on Christmas Eve night in our pajamas and slippers reading Jolly Old Santa Claus marveling at the luminous pictures, followed by the centuries old Nativity story that binds […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.