Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Religion of Santa Claus

When I was a kid, I never really believed in Jesus. Jesus was too far away and too holy to hear me. It seemed anything I wanted to talk to God about would be considered so small and self-centered. Plus, I didn't understand how to read the bible. When someone would tell us to go to a certain bible passage, I didn't understand how to look up chapter, verse, etc. I would look thoughtful and flip the thin pages. I stopped flipping when everyone around me found what they were looking for. I pretended to read along, but whatever page I happened upon never had anything to do with what the sermon was about. In fact, it seemed to be the opposite: they would be talking about do unto others and my bible would be open to something about shaking wheat.
My friends occasionally talked about seeing Jesus or hearing the voice of God (they also claimed to see ghosts and Bigfoot). Even though I didn't believe them, I was jealous that they had a connection to Jesus. Jesus was not comforting to me at all. In illustrations of Jesus, he was barefoot and wimpy looking. I never thought he would stand a chance if he had to pave roads or lay bricks. I didn't think he could do the work or handle the construction worker's language and drinking.
Where Jesus failed me, Santa delivered. Santa was everywhere: TV, magazines, newspapers, parades, department stores. I actually went to see Santa and sat on his lap. Now, I thought even then that this was not the "real" Santa, but this stand-in Santa had authority. Everyone accepted that this Santa was authorized to hear our Christmas wishes. I remember sitting on Santa's lap and being respectful, full of awe. His plush red velvet pants were always so soft, a special shade of Santa red that I couldn't find in the real world. I never felt this at church.
More evidence that Santa was really real was the insistence of our parents that we write letters to Santa. They actually went to to the trouble to make us write letters and mail them. This seemed a time-consuming chore that grown-ups wouldn't do unless they had to.
On Christmas Eve, there was some mention of the baby Jesus and the manger. We even had a wooden nativity scene sitting on top of the TV, but I was interested in what was "real." I wanted to know where Santa was in the world. I wanted to stay up as late as possible to perhaps see him, but I understood that I had to sleep for him to come. I lay in bed and listened for jingle bells and footsteps around the house. I never heard any.
But the final proof of Santa's true existance was the presents under the tree, around the tree and on the coach on Christmas morning. I firmly believed in Santa. When all else failed, I KNEW Santa was at the North Pole actually caring who was naughty and nice. During the year, I thought about the consequences of being bad in terms of how it would upset Santa, not Jesus.
So finding out Santa wasn't real was a massive trauma for me. I found out while standing in the bus line in the fourth grade at Chilhowie Elementary School. Several kids in line turned and looked at me like I was completely delusional and made fun of me for still thinking there was a Santa (although they believed in talking snakes, men living in whales and a burning bush). Perhaps at the time, I knew there wasn't a Santa. The horrible evidence was stacking up so that it was becoming unavoidable. However, I had managed to push it into some closet in my mind longer than most kids my age. But the most painful thing were these little pricks in the bus line flinging open the closet door and confirming this dreadful fact. I didn't mind finding out about sex from the kids at school, but having these little freaks tell me there was no Santa was tough to take.

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