At least one correct answer to the question “What’s the difference between God and Santa Claus?” is “There is no God.” Some of you may object. What’s the evidence for Santa Claus, Mr. Big Shot Atheist!?
Just ask my daughter. OK, I admit she is now faithless. The scales have fallen from her eyes. She realizes there really isn’t a Santa Claus. The only excuse I can make for her is that she is exhibiting what most people would call age appropriate behavior. After all, she’s 30 and has two children of her own. But we believe the arrival of the little ones (the oldest isn’t 3 years old yet) will probably resurrect the non-existent (aka dead) Santa, a resurrection that maternal Grandma and Grandpa (aka Mr. and Mrs. Revere) will shamelessly aid and abet. Because in the Revere household, Santa has much more of a place of honor than God. You can ask Santa for something and have a good chance of getting it. You ask God for something and you get just the opposite and that comes in life’s equivalent of clamshell packaging. So it made sense that daughter dear was 13 before she lost her faith (in Santa), cruelly disillusioned by a Santa-less practitioner of some religion.
Let’s recognize upfront that, like any family centered holiday, there can be some excellent reasons to dread Christmas. For many people family holidays dredge up bad memories or the pain of good memories of times and people who are gone forever. It can be a crushingly lonely time of year. It is what it is and getting through the holiday season can be tough.
Having said that, why does this good atheist family cling to Santa and why is Christmas our favorite holiday? We explain this every year, because for reasons we don’t understand atheists aren’t supposed to like Christmas. But lots of us do. It’s not a Christian thing (I’m not nor have I ever been a member of the Christianist Party). We like Christmas for some of the very reasons so many people seem to hate it: it’s a great commercial and secular holiday that’s warm and pleasant at a dark time of year (that’s the idea, right?). We even like the commercialism. Sure it’s cynically designed to promote consumption. But encouraging people to buy things for their loved ones and friends to make them happy is not so bad. Even the religious folk can get in on the act. How can you not like a holiday whose main religious icon masquerades as The Prince of Peace? Sure it’s bogus. People routinely kill for The Prince of Peace. But a little willing suspension of disbelief doesn’t hurt one day a year. We can pretend that being The Prince of Peace is a good thing to be a prince of, right?
And the willing suspension of disbelief extends to Santa. Of course the idea that a fat man with a beard wearing a red suit can visit every child’s house in the world in a couple of hours and gain entrance by sliding down their chimney, eating some milk and cookies, dropping off some trinkets from a sack he carries over his shoulder and that comes down the chimney with him, all this just to make some kid happy and then going to the next house in a sleigh pulled by
12 8 reindeer, well, it is pretty silly. Almost as silly as thinking there’s an old guy in the sky that knows everything and can control anything — if he wanted to — but lets all sorts of horrible crap happen to people because he loves them — well, Santa’s not that silly. But pretty silly, still.
Silly or not, Santa is a wonder to lots of little ones, and now that Mrs. R. and I again have three little ones for whom Santa exists, we have faith too. Welcome back, Santa. We missed you. And we’re going to do our best to help you make those little guys happy.
And to all the rest of you, The Reveres wish you nothing but peace and comfort at this dark time, literally and figuratively. We wish it for you whether you believe in Santa or not. We are a very tolerant bunch.