- Cullman, Alabama

December 23, 2013

SOUTHERN STYLE: The Truth About Santa

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— Around this time of year you might see Santa in many places, at malls, Christmas parties, in grocery stores and parades. This often prompts questions from little ones — is this the real Santa, they ask?

The dilemma of explaining the complexity of Santa has been going on for decades. For me, the answer came in the form of a newspaper clipping that I’m sure many of you have read, as well. That letter from eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon to the editor of The New York Sun was answered by veteran newsman, Francis Pharcellus Church Sept. 21, 1897. It has become the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the world, having appeared in part or whole in dozens of languages, via books, movies, other newspapers and on posters and stamps.

Because this editorial affected me so greatly, I’ve always looked for its meaning in the people I see each Christmas season, and in fact, the year round.

So when my own granddaughter, Allie (who was incidentally just about the same age as Virginia O’Hanlon at the time) asked me a few years ago if the man in the photo with her was the real Santa, I was able to tell her what I believe to be the real truth about the old gentleman in the red suit...

It seems to me that Santa is as real as we are. In fact, we are what makes him real. For what are we but souls who will tread the earth for a while, then become a memory in the minds of those who knew and loved us? However, if we are kind, good and loving, then we pass that love along to others who continue to share our memory until they in turn pass it along to the next generation. In that respect, our spirit never really disappears.

Santa is the accumulation of all that is good in the human race. He seems to have taken on the traits that we, as Christians, revere in our Savior. Without a doubt, there is a difference because Santa, of course, cannot forgive a person of their sins, nor answer prayers, but in order that we mortals have a face to go with the name, it seems that the identity, at least this time of year, has chubby cheeks and twinkling eyes and a loving, happy laugh.

We’ve never seen the face of God. Some say that it takes many forms. Perhaps this is just one of them.

The power to answer prayer might be seen through a child’s eyes as the granting of a Christmas wish. Santa, like the wise men of old, brings gifts on Christmas Eve to those who are innocent, pure of heart, and whose minds are open to the wonder and mystery of the truth of Christ's birth and the legend of Santa’s giving spirit.

If what is required from us as Christians is to be faithful, kind, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, to love our neighbors as ourselves and to spread the Word to those we meet, then the message is, in fact, the same.

The real Santa inspires others to give as he does. This includes providing for those who might not be able to do so for themselves. That’s why it’s so heartwarming to see the giving, loving Spirit moving among people in the days leading up to Christmas. Those who have committed their lives to the Lord are compelled to give to others in some special form. Maybe it’s sharing a Christmas meal with someone who otherwise would not have one, or perhaps it’s taking an angel from a tree somewhere and providing for a child they will never know. It could be that they will simply slip a few extra dollars into a collection plate marked for foreign missions or a special community outreach. Whatever shape it takes, it’s the spirit of giving that matters.

And that is why I know that Santa is real. His spirit reaches into the hearts and minds of those who believe in the wonder of Christmas. God’s creation of a world where love, in spite of all its turmoil, survives and flourishes, is the same message, told since the beginning, then taking human form in the greatest Gift that mankind ever received.

And this love can be shown in many ways, not just gift-giving, but by making others smile, by holding someone’s hand, or offering a warm hug just when it’s needed the most. It can manifest itself in song, or the sound of church bells ringing out on Christmas morning. It can show its magic in the eyes of a child seeing snowflakes for the first time, or in a grandmother’s fond gaze as she looks upon her children’s children with the deepest affection. These are blessings that are bestowed because our hearts are tender at this time of year. They can even come from strangers who pass along a kindness. These blessings come from everywhere….they are called “love”, and it is free to those who share it with others. And it comes back to us — yes, indeed it does.

For that is the true meaning of Santa, this is what makes him real, even to this day, the blessings and the love he shares so that we can share it again and again, and in these blessings and love and faith, we find the age-old meaning of Christianity — that we should love one another.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NASB) 12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13) But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.