One way to handle the secularization or, depending on your source, (re)paganization of the Christmas holiday is to become a reactionary. This may not be the best option, but it is a valid one. Everyone’s tempted by something. Being a reactionary has never brought me many favors, but we’re pals nonetheless.
Back in 1997 our daughter came home from day care and informed us that her class wasn’t doing just one Christmas that year. Rather, they were going to be celebrating many holidays. Upon further inquiry we found that her class, she was 3 at the time, was going to be studying Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — though there were no practitioners of either of the latter faith traditions in her day care class. We reacted by pulling her out of day care. [The good news is she was home schooled from that point until 4th grade.]
When she was coming of “Santa age,” we decided that, though it was the practice of our families, we weren’t going to do the Santa thing. Besides, back then we were in the Russian Church Abroad, therefore on the “old calendar,” and it didn’t make much since. To complicate matters further, our parish was named St Nicholas and we already had a “visit” with presents from our patron each year on his Feast, December 6/19.
The year prior, when my son was 4, we were doing last minute shopping in the mall on December 23rd. As we rested by a fountain, he saw the Mall Santa at a distance and said, “Dad, can I go talk to him?” “Basil, I thought you didn’t believe in Santa,” I replied. He said, “Dad, I don’t. I just wanna go talk to him.” I told him to look at how long the line was and reminded him that we didn’t have much time and were just sitting there waiting on mom and the girls. When the said party arrived, I’d no sooner exchanged news with them — a mere moment, mind you — when someone asked, “Where’s Basil?” Immediately my eyes shot toward the great line of people and, sure enough, there near the back of the 50 people or so was a little four year old boy. So, we let him. I went and waited with him. “No,” I told them, “we don’t want a picture.” He eventually got to sit on the old man’s lap. That’s about the time their camera/computer equipment broke. As they worked to repair it — for about 20 minutes — Basil sat right there and talked to Santa. No harm done, everyone went home satisfied, except maybe the old man.
The following year, on the eve of St Nicholas Feast, we were having Vespers in the church. Basil was serving in the altar and he asked if I thought St Nicholas had visited St John’s [fellowship hall] Building yet. Having replied that I did not know, and though freezing rain and sleet was falling, he asked if he could go check. I’ll never forget the sight of my 5 year old son eagerly and expectantly running up the stairs through inclement weather to peer into a building to see if a Saint had yet visited with presents.
A week later we found ourselves traveling to visit my father on, as we said as kids, “Christmas Eve eve,” December 23rd. Our dinner was interrupted by the headlights of a car’s arrival. “Who’s that?” I asked. My dad said, “I don’t know. Basil, go to the door.” I was a little uncomfortable with my son being sent to answer a strange door … when in walked the best looking Santa I had ever seen. I swear to you for a moment I was a kid again. A grown man had a “Miracle on 34th Street” moment. I almost wept. This Santa knew all about my kids. He knew their names — all our names — and family trivia. He had wonderful answers to their questions about Rudolph and the other reindeer. His white hair & beard, costume, red cheeks, twinkling eyes … all came together to make me feel like a cad for ever doubting. When finally he approached me he said, “Howdy cuz” with a wink and a smile. Danged if I wasn’t just plain confused from that point on.
Later, after Santa’s exit, my dad explained to me that the man was indeed a cousin of mine who played Santa during the season.
Sometimes, when it comes to family, you just can’t win for winning.
Edited from the original, published 2004.