The tradition of Santa Claus developed in many cultures from the actions of the fourth-century St. Nicholas, a bishop who helped many poor people with gifts to rescue them from destitution. Like all the saints, this holy figure lived the Gospel and followed the example of Jesus, giving freely to others and showering gifts on them in imitation of a gracious God. Over the centuries, we’ve confused Santa and God, or perhaps we’ve created both in an image that was never intended to be theirs. Both are portrayed as keeping a careful account of each good and bad thing we do, weighing our actions against a standard of perfection, recording a black mark each time we make a mistake. It may be a reflection of a strongly authoritarian culture, or it might just be a parent’s desperate attempt to keep antsy kids from misbehaving in the excitement and anticipation of the Christmas season: “Santa’s elves are watching you!” We need to remember always that God’s attitude toward us is far more one of mercy than of judgment. Forgiveness and generosity are the hallmarks of the divine. The psalms tell us that God puts behind himself all our sins. Gifts, by their nature, are something we don’t deserve and can’t earn. And the greatest gift-giver is our God. If this is what our faith tells us, then our Christmas traditions should reflect this.
— from the book Simple Gifts: Daily Reflections for Advent
by Diane M. Houdek