When I was a little girl I thought Santa Claus and God were a lot alike. First there was that “making a list and checking it twice” song to let us know that Santa was watching “to see who’s naughty or nice.” Then Sister Anne told us God has a big book up in heaven and when we die we’re going to have to stand in front of everybody in all creation while our sins are read out loud for everyone to hear. I had to think that with a book like that someone was checking it at least a couple of times.
Santa seemed be easier to please than God. He judged you on an annual basis and on Christmas morning you knew how you’d done that year. If you were real good you got everything you asked for. If you were real bad, you got nothing. I always landed somewhere in the middle. I never got everything I asked for, but I never got nothing either. I usually ended up with one or two things from my list and some other things that were nothing to write home about. Then there were the socks and underwear that came as a warning to do better in the New Year. I figured he must have checked that list and seen me trying to peek at some answers on a math test or watched me picking on my little brother. He also seemed to know I always tried to do better and found it in his heart to give me a bit of credit for that. I figured that’s how I got my first pair of roller skates.
God is tougher. He expects you to be good all the time and if you can’t quite pull it off, he wants you to tell on yourself. That’s what they call ‘going to confession’ in my church. Then you have do penance and pray for your immortal soul. There are no presents to let you know how you’re doing. Confession was always a problem. What if I forgot something? What if He looked away when I was good and didn’t see how hard I tried? Even a pair of socks would have been some indication of how things were going. I thought God should have a chat with Santa.
During Christmas things got all mixed up and everybody went a little crazy. Jingle Bells and Away in A Manger competed on the stereo. Santa images appeared everywhere. Baby Jesus was getting ready for his birthday and his straw bed was right up there at the front of the church and at home we placed it under the Christmas tree with the sheep and the cows, the chipped wise men and one shepherd with a broken staff. Mary prayed and Joseph stood guard over all of them.
In the midst of all this I heard about some kid seeing his mommy kissing Santa Claus. Imagine something like that happening when everyone is expected to be on their best behavior. It was enough to drive a kid to distraction.
Right after that, we had to practice for the Christmas pageant and get into a solemn state worthy of Our Lord. I tried. However, even with the best intentions I never managed to behave well enough to be considered for the part of Mary. I did manage to be a pretty good sheep once and from that success I moved up to play a well disguised wise man the following year.
As I look back on those innocent years, I realize that as adults we feel the same pressure to be good, to answer to more than one standard at the same time. We grow distracted and fail to see Him in the stars, the morning sun, or the loving eyes of our spouse. We no longer notice the prayer in a child’s laugh or a loved one’s crooked smile. It’s because of times like these that God reminds us to think of others.
It is through Him that we opened our hearts long ago and created a joyful old elf to carry His message. That is why God and Santa look alike to an innocent little girl trying her best to prepare for when the time comes to check that list. Faith comes in many forms but always at the heart of it is a message to try to do your best, to appreciate the gifts that life offers and share our love with family and our community.
Now when people complain about how commercial the season has become, how gifts and parties have taken over, I smile and look into the face of Santa, and I see Him there, smiling back at me with all the love a father holds for a child trying hard to be good.
Merry Christmas Caregivers!
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