The Symbolism of Santa Claus

My wife and I have only loosely weaved the figure of Santa Claus into our Christmas celebrations.  Neither of us feel very strongly about Santa one way or another, although we have family members who wouldn’t dream of, in their words, lying to their children.

I grew up a believer and have fond memories, but my wife never really played the game.

The other day at our dinner discussion, our son, who’s six, inquired himself out of any belief he may have held.  I don’t remember his exact line of questioning, but as I had no qualms about giving the game away, I answered him without any effort to hide the truth that his parents were really Santa.  The boy is now under strict instruction to stay mum around his friends.  I imagine he’ll one day let his sister in on the secret, but she’s not yet two.

Santa will remain a figure in our Advent and Christmas discourse, but as an explicit rather than disguised symbol of generosity.  He will represent the care and compassion of family and friends, neighbors and strangers.  We’ll read and converse about Tolkien’s Letters to Father Christmas.  We’ll empty stockings as presents from the North Pole.  We will treat story of Santa as a myth, a tale that expresses figurative truth through the fantastical.

Does Santa figure into your holiday?  How so?  Why or why not?

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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12 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    You need to teach your children about Santa Clause, because otherwise they won’t understand the story of Jack Skellington.

  2. Plinko says:

    Now I need to find my copy of Letters to Father Christmas!

  3. Teresa Rice says:

    I’m going to have to find a copy of Letters To Father Christmas and read it. Sounds interesting.

  4. ex creche worker says:

    Try this, it always works. There once was a very kind man named Saint (Santa in some languages) Nicholas and he was the first one (the father of) to celebrate the sort of Christmas we have, where we give each other presents. That’s why he’s called Santa or Saint Nic or Father Christmas. He was very real and they even built a Cathedral in his name! Everyone will smile and feel vindicated with their belief and kids that know who puts the presents out don’t feel like they were tricked or hold a secret. Google St. Nicholas for them and show them the statue outside the Church.
    Merry Christmas.

  5. zic says:

    My favorite story on the roots of Santa is the Amanita Muscaria, mushroom that grows in the reaches of northern Europe. Like all amanita, it has a protective veil during it’s early growth that protects the developing mushroom and maintains moisture. When it’s ready to produce spores, the veil ruptures, causing a white ring around the stem and white warts on the red-skinned cap.

    Reindeer love this mushroom, the eat it whenever they find it, and it makes them quite giddy. They’d jump so that they appeared to be flying. Laplanders who herd the reindeer also loved it, and would collect the reindeer urine after the beasts had had a mushroom snack, the Laplanders drank this to get intoxicated. Jolly times were had by all. This, according to Greg Marley, author of Chanterelle Dreams and Amanita Nightmares, is the root of the Santa legend.

    Amanita Muscaria grows in the northern US, but does not seem to have the same intoxicating qualities; stories of folk eating it seem to result in illness and a visit to the hospital to have your stomach pumped full of charcoal instead of visions of sugar plums in your head.

    Perhaps the reindeer are necessary for the gift to be nice, and that coal in your stocking is in case you’ve been naughty, and not waited for the reindeer to do their bit.

  6. Kazzy says:

    I could probably write this entire essay replacing “Santa” with “Jesus”. And vice versa. Zazzy wants a Christmas tree. And possibly a Menorah. But we both have zero plans (as of now) to bring up the baby with any affiliation with an organized faith.

  7. RB says:

    There are scant periods in any year where altruism is generated by a cultural need to offer all the hand of friendship and joy. Saint Nicholas to some is merely myth and yet the legacy of that one man brings happiness to millions and his influence in celebrating a period of time when peace and goodwill is promoted is continually under attack. This is a time when religious differences need to be set aside and if the charisma of one man from one religion provides a moment of solace. It should be embraced not crushed.
    Santa may not exist in fact but does in spirit and it is that spirit that leads to selfless giving. Those that are willing to listen are influenced by that legacy and as with the New York cop who shod a homeless vagrant, when else would such altruism ever appear, especially at an international level, regardless of race or creed.
    Those who promote denial, religious hatred and demonise the west in order to crush a culture two millennia old would leave our world a morally bereft, selfish, cold and hateful environment for us all to live in.

  8. Alan Scott says:

    One of the novels in my head, that I will almost certainly never write down, is “The War on Christ-Mass Day”. It is a fantasy adventure set in 4th century Rome. A Christmas story where the elves are the Legolas kind instead of the jingle bells kind, that explores the dichotomy of christmas as a pagan feast and christmas as a celebration of the messiah.

    Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, future patron saint of thieves, is a main character.

  9. Dear Kyle,

    Thanks for the post. Santa Clause does figure into our Advent celebrations – in two ways.

    First, we teach our children (7, 5, and 8 months) the why behind the what we do during the Advent season. Our family participates in our faith in an active and honest way.

    Second, we embrace the idea of fantasy and child-like wonder / sense of adventure. Therefore, we don’t seek to bring “reality” into the conversation unless our children inquire. Therefore, if our children want to embrace the idea of Santa and the excitement surrounding him, the exchange of gifts etc. then we just let it go. Our children are extremely imaginative and filled with the wonder / awe of a thing or event. I think that is a great quality and I want to foster that in my children.

    I remember two things growing up. 1.) The wonder and excitement of Santa and the gifts he would bring us. 2.) The desire to grow up and an inability to live for the moment.

    I want our children to embrace the moment. Enjoy being a kid. Embrace the imaginative, fantasy and wonder only dreams and child-like faith can bring.

    Therefore, Santa is still real in our family.