Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Spiritual Side To Santa Claus

By DEACON BRIAN KILKELLY, Commentary | Published December 23, 2010

From time to time I have been accused by some of my friends, “You seem to see God revealing Himself in many different life situations.”  Well, I must confess, often I do.

It is a firm conviction of mine that God has planted deep in each of us a special seed, which sprouts into a genuine longing to come to know God. Furthermore, we learn most about God from our many rich and breathtaking life experiences.

Some time ago, a well-meaning friend of mine and I were in a shopping mall on some errand, when we both came across a long line of mostly young children with their moms, waiting to see Santa Claus. My good friend felt this clearly took away from the “reason for the season.” In his mind, Christmas was now almost totally an excuse for stores to lure weary customers into spending way too much money on some big thing, which will undoubtedly end up in the back of someone’s closet. The truth, of course, is that he was correct. But that is truth for us adults to ponder.

We should not and cannot project our adult reality onto a 4- or 5-year-old’s conception.

Allow me to share an incident from my life. We have an extended family that lived down the street from us, and we have been sharing Christmas with each other since 1975. Their youngest daughter, Liz, is now married. She and her husband, who is in the Air Force, have three children, Jake, Eden and Megen—my wife Judy is their godmother.

The first Christmas home while on their first deployment was about 11 years ago. The oldest kids were just little tikes. Everyone went out of their way to do everything possible so that Christmas would be special.

A man dressed as Santa Claus rides in his sleigh as he prepares for Christmas near the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Finland, Dec. 19. (CNS photo/Bob Strong, Reuters)

The kids ended up with much too much. It could actually have filled the better part of a whole freight car. All of which had to be sent overseas.

Jake’s eyes were as big as saucers. The air was thick with awe, wonderment and excitement. It was evident to all that Jake had just experienced something very much beyond his earthly norm. Someone out there really cared for him and bestowed gifts and blessings way beyond his earthly imagination. I’ll bet this also sparked hope. Surely, Santa Claus would come again next year.

If we had tried for weeks, I doubt we could come up with a better way for him to have an experience that would help him to understand that we have a loving, caring, transcendent God, who has a special gift for us that is way beyond our earthly imagination. Of course, that gift being eternal life in paradise with Him. My sense is that this rather sophisticated cognitive concept is far too abstract for such a young mind.

In my mind Santa Claus is a perfect metaphor for a generous, supernatural loving benefactor. Wouldn’t it be terrific if older grade school children could somehow come to make that cognitive transition in some smooth way that might enhance their faith and hope for blessings that are even bigger?

The famous editorial “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” written in the New York Sun editorial page in 1897, ends with “Thank God! Santa Claus lives. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times a thousand, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

We are blessed to live in a country that has absorbed the values of the Christian/Judeo faith into our culture. So even if an individual is still ignoring or fighting his personal calling, giving and caring are in the air. Not always or everyone but certainly mostly!

One of my great pleasures is to watch people grow, and especially to grow in their understanding of God’s calling on our hearts. I recall when my youngest son James was just of that age when he wanted me to help him find something really special for his mother that year.  Oh boy, he was beginning to catch the spirit of Christmas and shift into becoming a real giver.

One of the beautiful things about Christmas is that it comes back around. Today the young people have a phrase “do over.” That is the way I think of Christ’s birth, celebrated each year. We get a “Do Over.” We can and should make a fresh new year start on our faith journey, responding to that yearning in each of us to know God better and to walk closer with Jesus.

The songs on the radio call us back, back to Christmas past, back to reconnect with family and friends. And so it is right and fitting that our church is calling us back, back to reconnect with God. Whatever it is, deep in our memory, that calls us; the music, smells, bells, rituals or just the memory of all those wonderful “experiences and encounters” with God’s special love manifested through the people God has placed in our lives.

Ordained a deacon in 2003, Deacon Brian Kilkelly serves at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.