Alas, Santa, There IS a Virginia!
by Kerry Blair
I have forty-eight Santas on my mantle. I would have sworn on a copy of The Night Before Christmas that I put up an even fifty, but the independent counting firm of Hil & Bandi (pictured above) insists there are forty-eight. (Great guess, Julie Bellon. You win!) I appreciate very much all the comments I received – here and through that little guy in the computer who chirps up whenever I’ve got mail.
Boy, did I get mail. I had no idea there exists an anti-Santa contingency before I received a six-page treatise on how SANTA is an anagram for Satan. (Admittedly, a woman at my book club last week probably felt similarly, but she sent me a very nice card and CD of sacred music rather than notification that I was going-to-heck-in-a-handbasket.) Either way, I was stunned. I’d never heard the Santa-as-antichrist thing in my entire life – and I’ve lived a looooong time.
My correspondent challenged me to count the number of Baby Jesus representations I put up this year, and then have the courage to publicly post that number as well. Admittedly, I have about half as many babies as I do old guys, but you’ve got to admit that most Baby Jesus figures come with huge entourages. (I have seventeen sheep and one two-foot tall camel for goodness sakes!) Suffice it to say that the nativities in my home occupy at least twice the area of the Santas, possibly three times.
But that isn’t the point.
Because cancer causes one to face the truth of mortality on an almost daily basis, I’ll admit the Santa thing worried me me a little. After all, I raised my children to believe in Santa Claus. (Boy, did I raise them to believe! On the Christmas Eve just after my youngest son returned home from Iraq, he wondered aloud what Santa Claus would bring a good little Marine. I replied that since the youngest child in our family was twenty, Santa just might miss us that year. My grown kids were so stunned and disappointed that I cleaned out a local Circle K for stocking stuffers, then got up at 3 AM and rummaged under the tree, searching for gifts suitable to unwrap and leave upon the hearth.)
Like my children, I’ve believed in Santa my whole life. I’ve believed in my Savior even longer. To me, the two are not mutually exclusive. As my family will attest, my one disappointment in joining the LDS Church was in learning there are no Christmas Eve services. I still miss the candlelight, hymns, and scripture—even when I have it all in my own living room. I’ve mostly been a good little Mormon girl, but some years the urge to worship with others is so overwhelming I have been compelled to “sneak” in with the Methodists come nine or ten o’clock. I suppose this is one more thing for which I’ll have to account at the judgment bar – likely when I face the Santa charges.
Although I’m not certain time is given to present a case for the defense, I’ve prepared one just in case. The year I joined the Church was the year Jeffrey R. Holland’s classic “Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come From a Store” was first published. It was a small little thing at the very back of the Ensign, a reprint of a talk he’d given to CES personnel. It touched me deeply as one of the truest things I’d read outside of scripture. You’re probably familiar with it. He re-tells Suess’s classic Grinch story, then testifies of the sacredness of that most holy of all nights. He writes: Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. (Ensign, Dec. 1977) While this is certainly not his thesis statement, I took him at his word. All have been welcome in my home, and yet Christ has remained the center.
Nevertheless, prompted by this year’s dire call to repentence, I did a little more research into the Santa thing. If I could be convinced I’d been deceived by a clever adversarial ploy, I was more than willing to replace all those fat guys on the mantle with my rather extensive collection of camels and wise men. (I figured it wouldn’t be much different; both brought gifts.) Unfortunately, the archives on the Church’s website only go back as far as the mid-1970s, so I can’t tell you Brigham Young’s position on the jolly saint – or even if he had one. I can tell you that I read every article with “Santa Claus” in it and discovered that while some members (like my friend) have publicly expressed horror at the superstition, the Brethren have not.
President Monson shared this story: …I had the privilege of taking my family downtown as Santa Claus made his appearance. It was interesting. Crowds gathered. One little girl had been standing on the side of the curb for what seemed to her like many minutes, waiting for this cherished event. Just as Santa Claus was to make his entry, great throngs of people crowded in front of her, blocking her view, and she began to cry.
A six-foot-three man who stood by her asked, “What’s the matter, dear?”
She said, “I have been waiting to see Santa, and now I can’t see him.”
He picked her up and placed her on his shoulders, providing her a commanding view. As Santa Claus came by, she waved her little hand toward him. He smiled and waved back to her and to everyone else in the crowd.
The little girl grabbed the hair of that big fellow and exclaimed, “He saw me! He saw me and smiled at me! I’m so glad it’s Christmas!” That little girl had the Christmas spirit. (The Spirit of Christmas, New Era, Dec. 1974)
But my favorite Santa story – the one I will tell my family on Christmas Eve this year – is from Rex D. Pinegar. He tells of a Christmas in the midst of the Great Depression. His father had died and his mother was doing the best she could to support the family. There was little money for food; he and his brother knew there could be no money for gifts. And yet, on Christmas morning, they awoke and there, in shiny-red glory, was a brand new bicycle. The tag upon it read: TO THE TWINS FROM SANTA CLAUS.
Elder Pinegar wrote: It wasn’t until several years later that we learned the beautiful, heartwarming truth. The sacrifice and concern of a loving mother, brother, and sister had made possible that unforgettable Christmas. Our brother had worked extra hours at a creamery after school. Our sister had done housework for a neighbor. Our mother had saved money from her early morning work at the cannery during the harvest months. They had worked extra hours and had sacrificed their time, their earnings, and their own Christmas gifts to provide a special Christmas for the young twins. The happiness of that Christmas was surpassed only by the discovery of their secret and their love and sacrifice for us. Here was the true spirit of Christmas—an older brother and sister lending unselfish support to parents, desiring to give anonymously that which they’d never had themselves, seeking no credit or praise for their act, expecting no reciprocation. This example of the love of children for parents and brothers I shall always cherish and value as a priceless gift. (The Truth About Christmas, Liahona, Dec. 1991)
To me, that is Santa Claus: anonymous, selfless service without any expectation of reward or reciprocation. (Except for cookies, I suppose. Santa does love cookies.)
Maybe I shouldn't have brought it up. After all, it seems to me that the issue was pretty much settled more than a century ago. In 1897, veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote: Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS… (Newseum.org)
So, this very morning the forty-eight Santas on my mantel have been joined by two more: one for every year I’ve lived – and loved Santa Claus. I may still be deluded, but I awoke before dawn, envisioning that judgment bar I mentioned earlier. I was standing there next to a guy who smugly read aloud his life’s work: “Eighty Proofs of the Evils of Santa Claus.”
St. Peter listened ever so carefully and then muttered, “You’re kidding me, right?”
One can always hope.