I was about seven or eight years of age. I think I had misbehaved on a trip to my Grandfather’s grave. Whatever, my sin, my Granny’s punishment was writing a letter to Santa and sending it up the chimney. My family even said that they had seen Santa flying off with it above the Ballymena Town Hall.
Bruce Springsteen expresses this kind of Santa theology well in his introduction to me favourite version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. He asks The E Street Band if they have been good, have they been rehearsing real hard. The crowd he suggests are in trouble as they haven’t been good.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town is indeed a hymn or creed to the damaging theology that Santa comes only to those who are good. It’s an annual mantra used to get children to behave. Santa is some bogey man who’ll get you if you are bad. Or rather that you won’t get anything from him if you are bad.
He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
It is an antithesis of the real arrival at Christmas. The Jesus of Christmas is not born for the good kids nor does he damn the bad kids. The Jesus of Christmas arrives with a welcoming generosity immediately experienced by shepherds looking after their sheep and some eastern mystical stargazers. They were not the religiously righteous. They were more naughty than nice.
The Christmas baby ushered in the Grace era. Oh it wasn’t a new concept and had been there all though the Old Testament but this new version of the Covenant between God and humanity had a new impetus of revolution. Sadly down the centuries humans have found Grace so other worldly that we have often gone back to our intuitive default. The Santa of Springsteen and my Granny is the fulness of that intuition.
In his Narnia Chronicles CS Lewis redeems Santa. In the world where it always winter but never Christmas, where the White Witch rules like the ruthless King Herod, Father Christmas arrives in Narnia to declare that “Aslan is on the move.”
Father Christmas gives gifts. Gifts of grace we might suggest. Gifts that all have a purpose in the new battle for the freedom of Narnia. To show the generous grace now at work in the world, that used to be frozen and cold, Father Christmas throws a banquet. He’s not checking naughtiness or niceness. Grace is a gift for all.