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Planted on the grassy strip in front of a house two doors down is a sign announcing “Santa Stops Here. Date: December 19. Raindate: December 20.” The many little tykes on my street must be counting the days.
I remember when Santa Claus came to Walnut Hill Plaza in Woonsocket in 1960, and ahead of his visit my mother was at the stove making dinner and I stood at her elbow and looked up at her face and made her solemnly tell me the truth: “Is he really coming in a flying sleigh?” And she solemnly assured me he was.
Which now reminds me of a Bible verse: “And as for the two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail” (Daniel 11:27).
It wasn’t a lie, of course; it was a fairy tale, and one that every parent told her child. And when we finally learned it wasn’t true, we each nursed disillusionment in private, the matter being never spoken of again.
We did our processing alone—how Mom and Dad, who love us more than life itself, could lie to us for years about a Santa Claus.
He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good. This is ersatz God.
No big deal. Except that when they also told us about God and how He’s coming back from heaven bearing gifts for boys and girls who go to church and do as they are told, perhaps we found the story slightly less believable, considering the source.
I remember also in third grade, the day that Principal Soeur St. Edouard de la Croix stopped by. It was the late 1950s, height of the Cold War and hiding under desks. She shared this story to convince us of the evils of Khrushchev and Communism: The teachers in the Soviet Union have the students close their eyes, and they tell them that God is going to put a treat on their desks while their eyes are shut. Invariably one smart-alecky kid will pry an eye open while the distribution is being made and will protest that they’d been lied to about God, and that in actuality it is the teacher who put candy on the desks! The point would then be aptly made that God does not exist and that all good things come from men and from the Party.
I started worrying about Krusty and Patty. They are my hand-stitched alter egos who make appearances each Sunday at church for a puppet show in the 4’s class and do age-appropriate versions of Noah, Lot, King David, and any other figure in the Bible that Mr. Ralph commands. The kids totally believe in this rough-around-the-edges cowboy and his more precocious female friend, even as they somehow know when I step out from behind the curtained puppet stand after the performance that I have something to do with it.
“How is what I do different from the Santa Claus purveyors?” I asked my husband. “I’ve got the kids believing that Krusty and his friend are real.” It’s not the same, he reassured me. Santa Claus is a replacement for the true God. Look at the similarities: He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good. He spreads his gifts through all the world and can be everywhere in space at the same time. This is ersatz God.
Let children and adults alike be warned about pretenders to the role of God masquerading as angels of light—from beauty, fame, and riches to benevolent largesse of government whose end is to control our lives and make us say in adoration as men will in the last days, “Who is like the beast?” (Revelation 13:4). To God alone belongs such acclamation: “The Lord is high above the nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalm 113:4-6).
The One who gives good gifts, whose coach is not a flying sleigh but a swift cloud (Isaiah 19:1) will never give His glory to another. And He won’t need a rain date either.