It’s interesting when you think about it. Millions of children today are anxiously awaiting an old man with a white beard who is dressed in an outfit that would embarrass them if their parents wore something similar in public.
Who wouldn’t look forward to Christmas? The old guy is always jolly and brings presents. Thai Buddhists love Santa. The malls in Bangkok all have large Christmas trees in the atrium. My mom, when she was a kid in the 1920s, used to get an orange for Christmas. I used to get an army set. Now Santa is loading on his sleigh iPhones, tablets and wide screen TVs. And, if you believe the TV commercials, now Santa even has a teletransporter which he uses instead of the sleigh to deliver big gifts like, say, a Lexus.
It’s a magical fantasy land we create every December in which children really believe that reindeer can somehow fly—up until, what, about six years old.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
will find it hard to sleep tonight
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys and many goodies on his sleigh
Yes, the old man with the white beard—these days he comes with black, brown, tan or white skin, depending on who you are marketing to—is for children who are innocent enough to let the warm glow of lights and presents under the tree and holiday music transport them to another world where everyone is happy.
One of my friends, who is almost as old as Santa, said that he loved Christmas when he was a child, but when he got older and then divorced, Santa was no longer able to deliver the goods. Now, however, he has grandchildren, and those little kids have brought back the joy that Santa couldn’t bring without them.
The old guy is for children.
The baby is for adults.
Remember that word association survey I did a few weeks ago in which asked people to say the first five words which came to mind when they heard the word “Christmas?” Of the 270 words they gave me, only 14 had any negative connotation, e.g. aggravation or loneliness, at all, yet an article in Psychology Today stated that 46 percent of the people they surveyed said that they “dreaded the holidays.”
It’s hard to get into the fantasy that elves are wrapping an iPhone 6 for you and loading it on Santa’s sleigh when you are going through a divorce or when your dad just died two months before. And even if he delivered that present, it wouldn’t make you feel better anyway.
That’s why the baby is for adults. The story of a baby born to a couple who was pregnant before they were married, had to travel away from home while the mom was in her ninth month and who gave birth in what amounted to a homeless shelter is anything but a sentimental feel good story. And then the young family had to flee to Egypt and become refugees to escape the soldiers of a paranoid ruler.
We try to make it sentimental by teaching children to sing “away in a manger no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. . . .The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”
I don’t think so.
The real story—the original one—should be rated PG if not R. The original story is a narrative which rings true to real adult life much better than the one we recite on The Night Before Christmas.
If you have children or grandchildren, go ahead and enjoy the Yuletide escape into fantasyland. But if you are alone or grieving or scared or poor or living in a homeless shelter or dreading the holidays for any reason, there’s another story that doesn’t try to escape the darkness but which empowers adults to live in the midst of the darkness with courage and hope.