Now that the holidays are over and my haul of coal-free gifts is safely ensconced in my bedroom, I think it's time to bring up the dark secret behind Christmas that no one likes to talk about. Simply put, Santa Claus is God-For-Kids. All this rooftop-and-reindeer business is naught but subterfuge. Jolly old St. Nick is to God Almighty as a plastic Big Wheel is to a regular bicycle: a training aid that lets children adjust to an intimidating and occasionally scary adult concept.
Let's look at the parallels:
God lets you ask for your dog to come out of surgery safely, by kneeling down and praying. Santa lets you request a new X Box by sitting on his lap.
God has many songs written in His praise, called hymns. Santa has plenty of songs of praise, but they're called carols instead.
God has priests to do His will. Santa has elves to make His toys.
God, by way of the church, demands tithing. Santa Claus demands you leave out cookies and milk, or, at the Keane house, beer and pretzels, on Christmas Eve.
God punishes for bad behavior with the threat of Hell, an eternity of fire and brimstone. Santa threatens coal, not sulfur, but otherwise the comparison is apt. After all, wouldn't most five year-olds choose an infinitude of torment over a toyless Christmas?
God had a secretary named Kennedy. Santa Claus had a secretary named Lincoln.
Eventually, kids learn that Santa Claus isn't real. It's a traumatic, world-shaking event to find out that what you previously considered to be the embodiment of all that is good about the world is merely an illusion. No one is there to see when you're sleeping, know when you're awake, or know when you've been bad or good. Luckily, there's God, Lord of heaven and Earth, creator of all that is seen and unseen, to fill the void. Whatever doubts a kid might have about the creation of the world in seven days, or Jesus turning water into wine, neither is as unlikely as one man delivering loads of free toys to children all around the world in one night.
And, like the Santa Claus myth, the God story is passed down from generation to generation. Sure, there's a few exceptions. There's the son who marries a Jewish woman, and stops getting a Christmas tree. There's the daughter who reads Nietzsche in a junior college humantities class, and decides that God is dead. But for the most part, belief in the Big Guy and the Big Fat Guy go hand-in-hand. Now, if there were only some kind of self-sacrifice, or dying for the sins of the North Pole community in the Rudolph story, then those clever Christians might really be onto something.