Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, December 12, 2008

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.


22 Comments:

At 12/12/2008 10:21 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I know Santa on a personal level. In our house it's a she. She works hard all year round to find the perfect gift. In Pres. Packer's new book, he also shares his thoughts on Santa. I think it's a wonderful tradition.

 
At 12/12/2008 10:41 AM, Blogger Taffy said...

I believe in Santa and the good he does. Santa is embodied in the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and Secret Santa, to name a few.
Maybe Satan is using himself as a tool to detract from the Christmas spirit ....

 
At 12/12/2008 10:43 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Heather, I'm not sure if this is the same Boyd K. Packer quote you referenced, but I read this a few days ago:

"I want to emphasize that I have no quarrel with that well-fed gentleman with the red suit and the white whiskers. He was very generous to me when I was a boy, and we are looking forward with great anticipation to his visit at our home. All of those things, with reference to Christmas, are appropriate and good, and all of them are for children (except, I suppose, the mistletoe)."

Elder Boyd K. Packer, BYU Devotional, Dec 19, 1962

 
At 12/12/2008 10:56 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Loved the blog, Kerry! I'll be thinking of you tomorrow when we go to our ward breakfast with Santa.

 
At 12/12/2008 11:18 AM, Blogger Ian said...

This is by far the best "Santa" post i've read since I started reading the blogs at the 'nackle. I can hardly keep my eyes dry as I read, recalling the great Christmases past. That's only a problem because i'm at work. I'd hate for a co-worker to walk in and see me crying. Awkward...

Anyway, thanks for pointing out the Grinch article by Holland. "How the Grinch stole Christmas" is by far my favorite Christmas story (right next to "A Christmas Carol". My only problem with it is, before I am done with it, I'm crying, and this is problematic when i'm trying to read it aloud to the family.

Thanks for this.

 
At 12/12/2008 12:31 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Kerry,
My favorite Christmases are the ones when the 24th or the 25th fall on a Sunday. I was raised in the church and have always been sad that we do not have services.

And to not believe in Santa? Unfanthomable! At 45 years old with 7 children and 1 grandbaby, I still lay awake, filled with anticipation waiting for the sound of sleigh bells, prancing and pawing hoofs and the glow of a shiny red nose.

Great post.

 
At 12/12/2008 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not use this phrase loosely, Kerry Lynn Blair, but you truly are my hero.

Deb

P.S. My kids are grown, yet we still leave cookies and milk next to the tree on Christmas Eve.

 
At 12/12/2008 12:57 PM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

48? Are you sure?

 
At 12/12/2008 12:59 PM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

Three packages. Sent Tuesday to Chino Valley. Media Mail. Santa lives.

 
At 12/12/2008 1:24 PM, Blogger Ally said...

I truly loved this post, Kerry. Thank you for sharing it.

 
At 12/12/2008 1:32 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I have a feeling St. Peter would say something very different to our beloved Kerry.

Great post.

 
At 12/12/2008 1:54 PM, Blogger bwebster said...

Keep your Santas! My wife started collecting Santas after her father's death back in 1992 because they remind her of her dad. No, he didn't have a beard (though I do), and he didn't run around in red robes. But he was short, ruddy, a bit stocky, and loved to work with his hands (he was a retired smokestack foreman).

Right now, we have around 50 ourselves, and they're all out in various places in our entryway, living room, kitchen, and dining room, plus on windowsills and shelving on the walls.

But there are no Santas on the fireplace mantle. That's reserved for the nativity set. The two aren't exclusive. ..bruce..

 
At 12/12/2008 2:24 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, I love your post. I have Snowmen on my mantel and nutcrackers all over the place, but three nativities hold places of honor. I haven't collected Santas, though I have a few Santa mugs, a couple of Santa ornaments on the tree, four Santa boots in my curio cabinet, and even a Santa nutcracker. I think Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or whatever children call him is an important part of a child's life. He is the best example of giving joy, then as the child grows older, teaching him the greater joy of anonymous giving.

 
At 12/12/2008 3:28 PM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

My favorite Christmas book is called I Believe in Santa by Diane G. Adamson. It has really put the legend of Santa in perspective for our family. And yes, I still believe in Santa. Too many miraculous and wonderful things have happened to our family at Christmas not to.

 
At 12/12/2008 4:49 PM, Blogger Kelsi Rose said...

I still believe in Santa. One of my favorite things to do on Christmas morning is to sit in front of the tree with my youngest brother (he is on a mission now so I have to wait 2 more years to do this) and look at the tree all aglow with Santa's gifts for us beneath. There is something magical about it. This usually happens around 4 or 5 in the morning because that is the longest we can stay in our room because we are so excited. Santa means hope for so many. Satan can't bring hope, but Santa sure can.

 
At 12/12/2008 5:09 PM, Blogger Doug Johnston said...

On Christas Eve night of 1974 my stayed in a hotel in Qashigton D. C. waiting to move to Spain on December 26. Somehow in the middle of the night Santa showed up. Kerry, I beleive!

 
At 12/12/2008 6:50 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

I've tried to teach my kids about Saint Nikolas and how we can be his agents -- each of us is Santa Claus. The youngest has pretty much missed the message, sigh, mostly because I have not repeated it enough and somewhat because she already believes that part of things.

 
At 12/12/2008 7:19 PM, Blogger Paiges' Pages said...

Kerry that was wonderful! I agree with Stephanie above. I love the book "I Believe in Santa Claus" We actually read it every Christmas Eve right along with the nativity story from Luke 2. My parents taught us to believe as the book states that Santa Claus is a symbol of Christmas. The Symbols of Christmas remind us of Christ, so we Believe in Santa Claus! In fact even as some of us older children have grow up, the tradition is still going strong. The cookies and milk are out on the Eve. For, as my Mom says, "He who does not believe does not recieve!" :) I love the jolly old elf!

 
At 12/13/2008 11:20 AM, Blogger Margaret Turley said...

Dear Kerry:
My favorite movie is the Miracle on 34th street. It is such a wonderful testament to Who and What Santa is. Of course growing up with a Dutch mother, we learned the origin of Santa was the Dutch Saint Nicholas. We faithfully celebrated his birthday every eve of December 5th. I believed in him long after I was "too old" to believe in Santa Claus.
I loved the year that our ward had a Christmas Eve service. It was in the middle of the week, and so it was very unique. There were musical numbers from the ward choir, and from individuals and families and very little narration.
With all the good you do, I know Heavenly Father is pleased with you - no doubt about that. I have a few Santa's myself, along with snowmen, and several nativities. As long as we have the spirit of giving I'm sure we won't have problems on the other side.

 
At 12/13/2008 2:31 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Beautiful post, Kerry, and I agree with everything you've shared. The spirit of Santa Claus lives on in the many acts of service rendered this time of year.

My first little grandchild will be experiencing her first Christmas this year. I am so excited to share a tradition that has been in our family for as long as I remember. Santa will be making a visit, as he always does, filling our hearts with memories and magic.

 
At 12/13/2008 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry,
...I'm just stunned to learn that there's someone else who has as many Santa's as my husband!

I've been trying to email all weekend, but apparently still not getting through - good news, I'm not dead.
I'll call you on Monday.
Pat
(Did I mention hubby works for the phone book company?)

 
At 12/17/2008 2:04 PM, Blogger Jeanette said...

I love this and couldn't agree more! I also love that you visit other churches on Christmas eve and I'm sure the Savior loves it too. I know that the fulness of the gospel has been restored to the earth but that doesn't mean that there is only one true way to praise God and only one group of people who can do it. The Savior loves all who come unto him in whatever way they know how. I have loved visiting other churches through the years. It is a wonderful reminder that the world is full of good people.

 

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