With an almost three year-old in the house, the conversation continues as to how we will or will not introduce the big fat man. Actually, we don’t have to introduce him at all because the dominant culture has taken care of that already. And frankly, I enjoy lots of fun Christmas music for a full month, and there are plenty of S-A-N-T-A songs in the mix. So I’m not fighting too hard against it but also not feeding it and not pushing the story. Other friends are asking similar questions and hearing mixed advice. Rather than examining how we will teach or manage the cultural tradition of Santa Claus and his global gift distribution system, I want to look at a different question: Why fight it?
Why challenge the dominant culture? Why question the norms? Why deprive your child of magic or mystery? It didn’t harm me, how could it harm them, right? Some friends have snidely said, “Just wait till they’re older and then tell me how it goes,” while others think it’s a silly thing to worry about in the first place. But part of my journey of faith over the past decade has been about self-examination and examination of how the Church in the United States is overly wed to the dominant culture. By that I mean, what parts of my life don’t reflect a gospel that proclaims the last will be first, what parts of my life support a cultural gospel of fierce autonomy, accumulation, and consumption, and how has the Church (in my experience of Church) supported those teachings and practices? And then how can I live and teach differently?
Some of these questions do come out of my early experiences of growing up surrounded by privilege and wealth, but I think the most recent years of personal growth are much more about asking questions of evangelicalism. What is the gospel? What’s good about any news that Jesus proclaimed? What part do I want to play in that? Or can I participate in it at all? Evangelical has become a filthy word in this country (just try saying anything positive about Rick Warren this week!), but its roots are so simple. Aren’t evangelicals those who believe that a good word needs to be shared? Now what that word is…we might disagree about that word. But that’s been my struggle these past 10-12 years.
What does that have to do with Santa? It’s harmless and innocent and fun. But I’m looking at how my son is already in a FIT over getting toys and presents next week, and it makes my stomach turn. The question about how or why or to what extent we will let Santa into our home is really a bigger question about what relationship we will have to a consumptive dominant culture. How will we practice generosity in our home? How will we live a true hospitality here? When the child across the street from me plays with his one truck in his dirt yard, how can I look at my child and say, “Here, take whatever you want, as much as you want, as long as you want.”
These are really questions about the juxtaposition of our me-first culture against the last-first Jesus who, as our legend tells it, was born around animals and dirty shepherds. The two cannot live together. The two are incompatible. I am struggling with the tension. I have not figured this out. My questions are being refined but are far from answered. If I am to continue to believe in this gospel story, it has to shape every aspect of my life because I believe what is being told of God from beginning to end impacts the way we encounter ourselves, each other, and the physical world around us. Anything less is just a fat man in a sweaty red suit sitting in a dumpy mall all day. It’s silly and fake and stinky and kind of creepy. I don’t want that story.
So why the Santa struggle? Whew. Why do you have to ask?