"Mom, I’ve decided to believe in Santa Claus."
She looked in my eyes, her head held high as she spoke.
"I believe he’s real."
"Well," I said to my youngest, she and I crammed in a booth in a too-loud restaurant, "That’s okay. You can believe that."
"I can?" she yelled, bouncing…
We’re not a Santa family, we Gerhardts. We’re not really opposed to Mr. Claus. We don’t boycott him. We don’t judge people who like him as idol worshippers. We just don’t do Santa—no letters to the North Pole, no elves, no cookies, no reindeer carrots.
We are sticks in the proverbial mud.
Our kids were two and four when they first asked about Santa. They asked if he was real. We looked at each other, me and my story-loving, truth-telling husband, and sighed, annoyed at our children’s precociousness and the ridiculous position they’d put us in.
We told them he was and he wasn’t. Hey, look at that shiny thing over there…
Okay, fine, we said he was real like Mickey Mouse is real. Now we say he’s a character in a well-loved story.
It’s a fine answer. It works.
Or it did.
This year, my kids have contracted Santa fever. And Eve, my rational, tiny adult of a daughter has it worst.
I totally understand: she wants to believe in Santa because it’s fun. Her friends believe in Santa and make lists and raise their hands in class to talk about their crazy shelf elves. She watches movies about Santa and listens to stories about Santa Mouse. She sees Santa on cards and wrapping paper and in front lawns, lit. All of it makes her want to believe. Because believing makes the people around her happy—people in Hallmark movies, people in the mall, people at Christmas parties. Complete strangers ask her what she wants from Santa, smiling. Men with white beards hand her candy canes—happiness sticks.
There is joy in believing.
I know it because I’ve seen it lived out, seen belief spill into giggles and song and celebration, and I know it because I read it in Romans. Paul says, ”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…”
I think I’ve written those words in Christmas cards. But I don’t mean believing the way Macy’s means it when they write the word in lights across their store or like many a Hallmark heroine has as snow begins to fall and Christmas carols drift through city streets.
I believe in more than a story. I believe in the story.
I’m don’t mean to pull a Jesus Juke here and make you feel guilty or small for “believing” in Santa. I’m simply inspired by the Christmas spirit of belief. If believing in Santa can delight the world for an entire month every year, what might it be like for the world to experience the joy that comes in believing a true story about a true Father and Giver and Light.
There is joy—real, lasting joy—in believing, not a story we made up to distract us from the pains of life and the darkness of winter, but a story written in light on human hearts, a true story told to save us from the pains of life and the darkness of a fallen world.
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas as a reminder of the birth of Christ, I encourage you to remember, right now, that there is joy in believing. This season, every time you see the word “Believe” in glittery script, remember…That while things are dark, there is light. That in pain there is healing. That in bondage there is freedom. In loneliness there is love. In desperation there is hope.
No burden is too heavy for a burden-lifting God.
No darkness is too thick for the God who is light.
No silence endures the powerful Word.
No evil wins in a battle with God Who is good.
I believe. And in believing I am filled to overflowing with joy.
For real. I have joy goosebumps.
After I told Eve she could believe in Santa Claus, she was happy. But a few minutes later she asked, “Mom, is Santa real?” And I didn’t know what to say because I hated to dampen any ounce of joy in her beautiful heart.
But she looked at my face and I knew she knew. She’d known. Her eyes drooped, disappointed.
Maybe I’m a bad mom. Maybe I should have lied. I’m not sure. I don’t think it matters so much in the grand scheme of things.
I am sure of this, wise words from Proverbs: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
When we believe in things that never happen, holding tight to illusions until they crumble in our hands, we find ourselves broken hearted. All the joy we humans can muster on our own, all the stories we tell to fill our empty spots, all of them, without Christ, are illusions, fading. Too much deferring makes hearts hard.
But when we find our beliefs matter, touchable stuff, course-altering, road-shaping, future-changing, we are healed and fed, satisfied and made alive. Faith made sight, even in part, is a tree we come back to in Spring and in Winter, its fruit always ripe, always good.
This Christmas season I pray you’d experience joy in believing, believing in something big and true and good, “so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Last month I asked my husband if we could dispense with Christmas gifts this year. No gifts for each other. No gifts for extended family. No gifts for the kids… I asked it because I was angry about the commercialization of Christmas. Because I was tired of people asking my kids what they wanted from Santa. And I was tired of my kids, unable to talk about anything else (despite their roomful of stuff). I was angry because Christmas has become one giant spending fest, everyone expected to play her part.
I wanted to lead a rebellion.
I’m always wanting to lead a rebellion….
Yesterday, I took my girls shopping for shoes. I bought Eve’s before I picked her up from school. I showed her the box and she exploded like a firework in excitement and joy. She put them on and thanked me a hundred times while I tied the laces. She said, “I love them! They make me look like a six year old!”
And my heart melted at the chance I’d had to make her so happy.
With London it would be different. Eve and I picked her up and drove to the outlet mall. She tried on twenty pairs of shoes at ten different stores. Every pair was wrong—the fit, the color, the style—and the look on her face and the anger in her eyes tested my resolve to love her (with warm, well-fitting footwear). Finally, the shoes were right. She was calm and sure. She said “These are my style.”
With Eve I was so pleased to give her the gift, because it made her smile (and bounce). With London I was pleased to wade through the prickly pickiness and to prove my love in my patience. Both gifts were pleasures to give.
Today, my girls put their shoes on the moment they awoke. Eve pushed open our bedroom door, light just barely peeking through the windows, and said, “I’m going to wear these shoes every day.”
There is a joy in gift giving I can’t explain. The gift needn’t be big for the joy to be. It’s not about impressing or proving. Gifts are ambassadors, carrying love and friendship past borders and over seas. They are, at their best, entirely voluntary, given with no compulsion. I like them most when they meet needs—no, not needs, almost needs. Like when you’ve “needed” warm socks for two years and never have taken the time to buy some and your husband comes home with the coziest pair (true story).
Gifts are grace. Unmerited favor.
Last night I was thinking, driving home in the dark, Christmas lights lining the road. I was thinking, “Christmas would be terrible without Jesus.”
You see, for me, Christmas is a season of grief. I lost a baby, my brother and my grandmother in the month of December. At eight I sat on a couch in a funeral home lobby the night before Christmas Eve feeling guilty for thinking about presents. At 21 I listened to Christmas carols in the car on the way to my brother’s viewing. And at 26 I miscarried in a cab passing the Rockefeller Center tree.
Christmastime is the worst.
It’s cold and rainy outside. The sun goes down at like 5 o’clock. You have to go to parties where you don’t really know everybody and wear festive sweaters and engage in small talk (alas) while everyone feasts on gluten-y and dairy-laden delights.
Luckily, there’s Jesus.
Jesus in me, His Spirit filling and comforting. Jesus in my kids laughing. Jesus in my church, giving. Jesus in the carols playing in my car. Jesus in the list of people I’ll buy presents. Jesus in the ornaments on my tree—memories and gifts.
For me, Christmas is a time to remember that even in the dark, even when life is hard and people are weird and all the food has gluten, God is with us. He’s light and unconditional love, joy and peace.
In the days before Christmas I don’t struggle to feel the tension of Advent, the pain of waiting for rescue and the joy of the Spirit’s presence. I feel that tension every day.
But at Christmas, tiny lights in a sea of dark, a handful of real belly laughs at a party with friends, and gifts—graces—for and from the ones we love serve as beautiful megaphones through which I hear the Advent chorus:
God is coming! God is here! God is coming…