ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

THE TWO SIDES OF CHRISTMAS

I did it.  I confess. I killed Santa Claus.

Not that I have anything against the jolly old elf.  Everyone who knows him has really good things to say about him.  Heaven knows, he’s always come through for me on Christmas (except for the year of the chemistry set – but then, how was he supposed to know that within 15 minutes of opening it I would be able to come up with a chemical concoction that would eat a hole clear through the naugahyde on Mom’s couch?).

I think Santa Claus is great – in his place.  That means at the mall, in the department store, at the North Pole, on the roof and down the chimney – with or without eight tiny reindeer.  That’s where he belongs, and that’s where he should stay.

But I don’t want to see him at church.

Don’t get me wrong.  If Santa wants to sit on the pew next to me and worship with me and my family, I have no problem with that – red furry suit notwithstanding.  In fact, I suspect he’s a regular congregant at the church of his choice in the North Pole.  He is, after all, a saint – is he not?  But it’s when he comes ho-ho-hoing his way into our church Christmas party, chaotically passing out candy canes and distracting the children’s attention from the Nativity scene at the front of the room that I draw the line.

And I did – firmly – the first time I had the chance.

“You what?” Sam asked when I told him what I had done.  Sam was my good friend and my associate in the lay ministry of our church congregation.  We were both new to the job and, in retrospect, pretty young and pretty foolish.  Sam just didn’t know how foolish I actually was until that precise moment.

“I told the committee that I didn’t want to have Santa at the Christmas party this year.”

“But we always have Santa come at the end of our Christmas party,” Sam said.  “It’s a tradition.  And the children expect it.”

“I know,” I said. “And I’m sure there will be a few people who will be . . . concerned.”

“Concerned?” Sam said.  “They’ll think you’re nuts!”

“Well, maybe I am,” I said.  “But this isn’t anit-Santa-ism.  Honest.  I’m all for Santa – everywhere but here at church.  I just think that with all of the consumerism that swirls around us this time of year, our people ought to have one place that they can go and completely focus on the religious meaning of Christmas without any distractions.”

“So you see Santa as a distraction?” he asked.

“In this context, yes – I do.”

Sam, who is usually very measured and careful in his comments, paused thoughtfully for a moment.  “Well, it’s your call,” he said at last.  “But just between us, I think you’re nuts.”

As expected, Sam was not alone in that assessment.  During the days leading up to the Christmas party other members of the congregation let me know – kindly and lovingly, of course – that they thought I was the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge and the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph – all rolled up into one.

But we had our party and it was lovely – calm, quiet, introspective and sweet.  The children participated in a Christmas tableau and sang “Away in a Manger.” We read the story of the first Christmas from the Book of Luke in the New Testament, and we closed by singing “Silent Night” as a congregation.  I even thought I saw a tear trickle down a cheek or two as we bowed our heads as a community of believers and thanked God for the blessing of Christmas.

As we cleaned up after the party Lucille, one of the widows in our congregation, came up to me.  She gave me a hug, looked up into my eyes and said: “Right now.”

I wasn’t sure that I had heard her correctly.  “Right now?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded.  “Right now,” she repeated.  “We’ve had a wonderful time together.  We’ve talked about Jesus and His birth.  We’ve sung and we’ve prayed.  We’re cleaning up and things are pretty chaotic anyway.  Now would be the time for Santa to come.”

I looked around me.  People were milling about, smiling and chatting.  Some were putting away tables and chairs, others were just lingering.  Children were running around the room, playing and laughing.  The moment just cried out for a dramatic entrance by a jolly, bearded man in a furry red suit.  Far from being a distraction, he would have enhanced the evening, bringing us together as a church family to celebrate the other side of Christmas.

“It’s all about timing,” Lucille said as she waved goodbye.

Since then I’ve tried to take Lucille’s wise counsel to heart each year as I’ve prepared to celebrate the two sides of Christmas.  I look for opportunities to contemplate and savor what for me are the deep, rich, spiritual underpinnings of the holiday.  Sometimes I have to find them on my own, quietly listening to Christmas music as I drive to and from work.  But I look for them and I find them and I savor them.  But I’ve also enjoyed the fun, light, happy times with my children and now, my grandchildren, and there is joy and fulfillment in those times as well.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still not excited about seeing Santa at church.  But I can live with it – if the timing is right.  Like Lucille said, it’s all about timing.

And not killing Santa if you don’t have to.

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— © Joseph Walker

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