All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
By Blaney Pridgen
Long ago and far away, while pastoring a church, I had just finished the five o’ clock Christmas Eve service, populated with young families and a lot of little children. It was a warm evening, the climatic Christmas curse of churches in the Deep South, so I greeted the departing worshippers in the church yard. As I did so with restive children all about, an older car came off the road and over the grass not far from where we stood. Black smoke was seeping from the hood and under the engine as the car came to a stop. Then, out jumped a costumed Santa Claus, who whooped and hollered for help as he arose the hood with such a clatter that the families and I were stunned to see what was the matter. I in my vestments flew into the church to retrieve an extinguisher. Down the steps returning, Santa’s car still burning, the children were crying: “Father Pridgen, save Santa Claus!” And with a big whoosh of white from the loud red canister, I did just that. Such successes in ministry are rare. The parents swished away in their cars before too much was revealed in the fall of a long winter’s nap.
I recollect another salvation of Santa Claus in the production of a piece of sentimental Christmas art. It is statuette of a fat old “Coca-Cola” Santa kneeling cap in hand at the manger of baby Jesus. That sort of puts Santa in his place in an unctuous sweet way for folks who want to keep Christ in Christmas. It’s a good thing to do that by making old Saint Nicholas in medieval bishop’s vestments into a kind of fourth wise man. Why not? Good stories are never hurt by a bit of embellishment.
Does Santa need saving? I have never liked the image of a ghostly presence watching over girls and boys to spy on who is naughty and who is nice in order to create a reward system with toys for the somewhat nice and very nice. That sounds too much like the depraved religion of too many grown-ups. After all, the privileged kids get the best toys. Naughty, underprivileged kids don’t. That’s not what Jesus would do, is it? Santa does. Where’s my fire extinguisher? Santa’s sleigh is on fire. He needs some saving.
Well, I don’t want to be the story Scrooge with any of our long-time favorite Christmas mythologies. They serve their purposes to make everything cheery and bright, at least once a year. Actually, the way Santa operates is the way the world operates the other eleven months. Santa will slink back to his North Pole. Good. Baby Jesus will grow up in the real, compassionate world. This too is good.
In the world of pastoring a typical church, I could not help but notice that parishioners came in for appointments a lot more in January and February than in November and December. I don’t believe it was just the bleak mid-winter that made that happen. I believe it was the let-down after Christmas when all the hoop-la and merry making had had no lasting effect. The party was over. In some cases, the party never happened and that was even worse. A similar thing happened in September, when summer vacations failed the promise of salvation (except possibly for stay-at-home moms and single parents who earnestly prayed for school to start again). There’s a mess of soot in the living rooms of our souls, when Santa leaves or worse yet, never shows up. Take good care of yourself in the wake of the holidays.