Should We Believe in Santa Claus?

Dec 19, 2019

December is upon us. Traffic is outrageous, stress levels are escalating, and budgets are taking a serious hit as we cross items off of our swelling Christmas lists. But what about the guy in the red suit who yells “ho-ho-ho” and showers us with presents if we’ve been nice? Is Santa just a bit of harmless fun, or is the question a bit more serious? Join Nathan, Cameron, and special guest Kasey Leander for a consideration of Santa’s role in our holiday cheer.

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Transcript



Please Note: Thinking Out Loud is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Cameron McAllister: Hello and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your cohost, Cameron McAllister.

Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm your cohost Nathan Rittenhouse.

Cameron McAllister: Well, 'tis the season to be jolly. Whether you're ready or not, whether you like it or not, we're in the advent season. But today we're not going to talk about anything as portentous and theologically rich as advent. Oh no, we're going to talk about Santa Claus.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Ho, ho, ho.

Cameron McAllister: Ho, ho, no. But we have a little help from a friend of ours who is a colleague and friend, and, dare I say it, a pretty jovial guy, I've got to say.

Kasey Leander: Thanks, guys.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. That other voice that you're hearing is Kasey Leander.

Kasey Leander: Hi there.

Cameron McAllister: We're really excited to have him on the show.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, and I'm not sure that this is a good idea because we're foisting upon Kasey quite an interesting burden unbeknownst to him, because here's what has to happen, I think, in this conversation that we're about to have, is that Cameron's going to be Cameron, I'm going to represent Nathan, and you're going to represent the normal, well-adjusted American people. There's a little bit of a curmudgeon factor here that you're help offset. That might be a blessing to everybody who's listening.

Kasey Leander: Well, we'll see. I just think maybe this will provide some much needed balance to the show, Nathan. I don't know.

Cameron McAllister: Don't bet on it.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Joy and levity, joy and levity.

Cameron McAllister: Some joy and levity.

Kasey Leander: You did just call me jolly.

Cameron McAllister: I did. I did. I think, yeah, I think you'll confirm that here in due time. But all right, well, let's press forward. We're going to talk about Santa Claus. And on a serious note, we do get quite a few questions about Santa Claus around this time of year. And it starts as a funny question, but quickly leads to some fairly deep existential threads. So I better kick it over to Nathan because Nathan has some pretty smoldering, hot take, I think, ideas here. Nathan?

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yes. My kids are up for a miserable Christmas. No. I think it's not something that I started thinking about too much until having kids myself, and just watching how deeply offended my kids are by the concept of Santa Claus, particularly in the sense the little childhood eyes are saying, "Dad, why do some people lie to their children?" And that's an interesting starting place to start with that conversation. And then you base it off the fact, I think, not so much of what it is, but what it's filling the place of, in the sense that, "Well, the incarnation of God, there's not so much awe and wonder to that. Surely we need to fabricate something else to go in that spot that helps us sell stuff to each other better." And so you can get cynical about it pretty quickly, looking at what are the theological implications of what it is that we're claiming to celebrate? What are we actually celebrating? How does that actually fit into a practical witness of what we believe in the advent season?

Nathan Rittenhouse: And I'm sure we'll get into some other details as we go along, but it's one of those, I think, it's deeply dependent on the traditions that we come from, our family routines, but also one that as we start thinking about it we're like, "This really doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

Cameron McAllister: All right. Well, before we get into all that deep, boring stuff, Nathan, let's go around and I want to start with Kasey here. Growing up, each of us needs to say, did you believe in Santa Claus growing up? I want to know that from each one of us. Kasey, take it away, man.

Kasey Leander: Yeah, thank you. I mean, as Santa's advocate in this conversation, I can say that I don't know if I ever seriously believed in Santa, but as a kid we would bring reindeer food out onto the front lawn and we'd scatter the reindeer food and we'd-

Cameron McAllister: Is that a common tradition? That I haven't heard of before.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I've never heard of that.

Kasey Leander: I can't say whether...I mean, as a well-adjusted American representing all other well-adjusted Americans...

Cameron McAllister: I'm sure the possums in your community were thrilled.

Kasey Leander: They loved it because when we came out the next day, there's no reindeer food on the grass. So I took that actually as proof positive that there's something going on here and I don't know what it is, but then...

Cameron McAllister: But you loved the wonder.

Kasey Leander: I loved the wonder, the childhood wonder, the sparkle and the gleam.

Cameron McAllister: Okay. Nathan, did you believe in Santa?

Nathan Rittenhouse: No, I did not.

Cameron McAllister: Okay.

Nathan Rittenhouse: But I was under very clear instructions not to spoil it for other kids at school. So my parents kind of walked that line of like, "All right, here's what's really going on, but we don't need to...spoil it all for everybody else."

Cameron McAllister: Right. Well, I grew up in Austria, in Vienna, so I was a missionary kid and so I'm not... Again, the world moves so fast, and increasingly the rest of the world looks a lot like the United States in some of its commercial habits, but at the time Santa Claus was not really a fixture in Austria. Now, there was a lot of emphasis on St.-

Nathan Rittenhouse: What, you didn't have Coca-Cola there?

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, sure. Right. But we had Saint Nicholas, but it wasn't...Lest you think that this is sort of, "Wow. They were into church fathers in Austria." No, this was Nikolaus, and very much the association was still this is a guy with a big long beard who brings you gifts and brings you presents. But I didn't believe in Santa growing up. My parents, just from the start, they didn't have any vendetta. There was no clear theological import communicated to us about this, but they just basically said, "Oh no, Santa Claus is something that is a myth that sort of animates a lot of stories."

Nathan Rittenhouse: Right. I think I'm resonating with that—of—it's a story, but it's a lesser false story. This is culturally around, but it has really nothing to bear on what it is that we feel like we're worshiping or celebrating during this time of year.

Cameron McAllister: But you're right though, I have kids now as well, and that puts a whole different spin on the conversation, cause now you're suddenly having to revisit it in a more serious light and think about the implications of it more deeply.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, and I think we're doomed to this conversation some because of the fact that we love to overanalyze everything. When you start taking Santa-

Cameron McAllister: No you don't.

Nathan Rittenhouse: At face value, you start taking Santa and you're like, "Well, here's a overweight creeper who knows when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake and judges you based off of your works and gives..."As Sam Allberry said, "Why do all the rich kids get the nice presents from Santa?" It's works-based, being good for goodness sake. That's not a very good foundation for morality, and it doesn't really have that great of a promise long-term. If you're going to...I think I feel about Santa Claus like atheists feel about God. I don't believe he exists, but he still annoys me.

Cameron McAllister: All right. Kasey, do you have thoughts?

Kasey Leander: I was just going to say in complete agreement with you, that's why I'm going to celebrate with my kids someday, Belsnickel, and I'm going to... Yeah. Fear not says I, for Belsnickel draws nigh.

Cameron McAllister: Is that a band?

Kasey Leander: No. It would be not a good band. It wouldn't be worth listening to if Belsnickel were a band.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Here's the question that we're saying though is...We're all for wonder and amazement and childlike joy. Is the actual Christmas story insufficient for that?

Cameron McAllister: I wonder whether you're creating a false dilemma here a little bit.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Hopefully.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. It's my hunch that you kind of are here, Nathan.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I might not be quite as...Well, maybe I am as hardcore on this as I think I am, but we're looking for some diversity here to get people thinking and ponder here. Yeah, push back a little for sure on everything.

Kasey Leander: Let me ask you this, Nathan. Do you have a Christmas tree in your living-

Nathan Rittenhouse: I don't.

Kasey Leander: Oh, hardcore.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Okay, go ahead.

Kasey Leander: You do not bring it...Is it like you won't have a Christmas tree or is it like you just don't?

Nathan Rittenhouse: We're talking about Santa here, not Christmas trees, but-

Cameron McAllister: Answer the question, Nathan.

Nathan Rittenhouse: We have decorations of the season.

Kasey Leander: Okay, interesting.

Cameron McAllister: That was a very diplomatic politician's answer right there.

Kasey Leander: Decorations, and I can't specify which.

Nathan Rittenhouse: We will specify deeply celebrate the birth of Christ.

Kasey Leander: Interesting. With things that may or may not have directly to do with the birth in-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, absolutely.

Kasey Leander: Interesting. Why?

Nathan Rittenhouse: Which is almost unavoidable. What commercial thing can you purchase as a decoration that helps you worship better?

Cameron McAllister: Right, but it's not necessarily all commercial connotations alone. I mean, that's undoubtedly part of it, absolutely. But I think it's a bit reductionistic to look at all of those elements as being nothing more than just peons to the free market. This is also a celebration that unites a lot of people across the board. There's something to be said about that solidarity. I think you can embrace the deeper Christmas spirit, but also enjoy some of these more cultural festivities at the same time.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. Growing up, we had a fun family tradition, definitely had a Christmas tree growing up. We actually all slept on the floor, like I camped out in our living room.

Kasey Leander: Yeah, we did that too. It was awesome.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, so I'm not anti-festivity by any stretch of imagination here. Let's not hear that. We're talking about Santa Claus though as a specific-

Kasey Leander: Santa trips a wire in your mind to Nathan. You're like, "Santa, get that-"

Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm not on a campaign about this, but when you start looking at who he is or is representing to be, it's kind of a funny thing.

Kasey Leander: Get this guy out of here.

Nathan Rittenhouse: We don't even have, most people don't even have chimneys. So how does Santa crawl down your chimney to put something under your fake tree?

Kasey Leander: Wow, I mean that's easy. He just comes through the window.

Cameron McAllister: You know, the logic can break down pretty quickly. But yeah, I mean there's, I think to me one of the most devastating facts there, if you just look at it from, from that standpoint is he is a Coca Cola mascot. right. I mean, so there's really-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well we do have a lot of, I think what we would see as postdoc justifications of the whole Saint Nicholas narrative. We try to baptize it into a more Christian narrative in our time then perhaps was tried to in the past.

Kasey Leander: And I think where I was going with the tree is that we do that with trees as well. I mean, the Christmas tree certainly would not have been present at the first Christmas at all. And yet-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Well in the church didn't really celebrate Christmas for like a couple hundred years. So there is that.

Kasey Leander: And it's interesting too talking to non-Christians, especially those who have done a lot of critical thinking about the culture, if they were raised in kind of a loosely Judeo-Christian context and they want to think through the cultural, oftentimes there'll be kind of a checkmate move that you hear sometimes in conversations where they're like, "Well, Christmas definitely didn't happen on December 25th and it was a pagan holiday to begin with. So what do you guys do in celebrating Jesus, his birth on that."

Kasey Leander: And I guess my response has always been "Oftentimes the way we celebrate deeply Christian ideas is a cultural reflection of the culture we live in." And boy, that's not to say that everything is. I think our authority scripture, that's where things start and that's where they end. But there's nothing wrong with maybe celebrating Coca-Cola or chopping down a tree and cramming it in your living room or putting ornaments on it necessarily. And that's been my response usually to that objection. But maybe you have a better one from your standpoint.

Nathan Rittenhouse: No, I think it's just keeping the cart ahead of the horse is the main thing that has to happen in this conversation. And so I'm being a little bit intentionally provocative here just to disrupt the pattern I think of...Now I'll say, okay, let me try this on you guys too. Do you think that there's a...Will there ever be a sense in which the prevalence of Christianity and culture influences the way that we view some of these side holiday type things in the sense that...So let's pick Halloween for example...Or no, so we'll go with Christmas. So I think the normal narrative would be, "Sure it's okay to play around with the idea of Santa Claus cause everybody knows that Jesus is the reason for the season." Actually if you have a good Christology, Jesus is the reason for the fabric of reality, but that doesn't sit on a coffee mug very well. So we'll just stick with the thing and that rhymes. But anyway, so everybody knows that. As we get into a...

Nathan Rittenhouse: Or maybe you know it's okay to celebrate Halloween because we all know that this isn't real. But okay, what happens when you start going to college and your next door neighbor is a witch. Like then suddenly that holiday means something different than when you are all in a Christian culture. So if you're in a...And I almost wonder if like the more Christian enclaves of the United States would have a bigger celebration of Santa Claus cause it...Be seen as less of a threat to the actual narrative than in places where Christianity is more of a fringe concept.

Cameron McAllister: Interesting. Yeah. So as we as Christianity's influence wanes, will our discussion around these different traditions change a little bit.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I don't have an answer that I'm pushing for there, it's just fascinating to think about how that-

Cameron McAllister: It is. I mean, and to just kind of, I suppose, point up the urgency there a little bit, it's been really fascinating to watch my son Dylan, who's three now, basically he's absorbed a good deal of the Santa narrative almost through cultural osmosis. It's incredible.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Right, and that's what I was going to say about Christmas stories and decorations and stuff. You almost can't...I mean my daughter goes to public school, I mean you're-

Cameron McAllister: The proliferation of the imagery. It's in the songs. It's, I mean it's reinforced everywhere, through all these different liturgies, but it really is. And he's already talking about... And then we go to a Christmas party where you have an extremely vivid, very well played Santa Claus-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh yeah, and that beard is real.

Cameron McAllister: Yes. Who shows up for photographs, but then...And then we kind of try to have our cake and eat it too because then the Santa Claus tells you the real reason behind Christmas. But you know all those kids are not really focused on him talking about Jesus in the manger. They're focused on him handing them the presents on that table and teeming with presence. So it's kind of a conflicted feeling and...Yeah, I think one of the specific items of the Santa mythos that I think pushes my buttons the most is the whole be good for goodness sake aspect. It's a very works-based kind of transactional philosophy of virtue that you're getting there. And that does seem to have some broader implications, but...So my wife and I are a little bit different. She grew up in a household where they did believe in Santa Claus. But that belief just sort of organically phased. And there was no, there was no deep sense of betrayal. There was no...I mean she earned, her sister just kind of realized it. But that's not always the case. I've heard some pretty dramatic stories of some families where there's a lot of anger, resentment.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. I don't, I don't know many of those personally.

Cameron McAllister: I know one.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I mean I think you hear some people who are curmudgeony in the sense of like, "Well if you tell your kids to believe in this invisible person and then they grow up and then you're going to tell them about God's real and that," I don't really know anybody who that's actually been the narrative that's been part of their disbelief in God. So I think that's a bit of a lousy argument. So anyway. Kasey, he's going to fix this for us.

Cameron McAllister: Solve the dilemma.

Kasey Leander: Well allow me to, as the average, well-adjusted pro Santa American-

Cameron McAllister: You are not average my friend.

Kasey Leander: Hey, thanks Cameron. You said, going back to the “be good for goodness sake,” and allow me to just take that way deeper than any of us really want it to go. If not for goodness sake, why ought we be good?

Nathan Rittenhouse: And so the, I think the-

Cameron McAllister: That's essentially the Euthyphro dilemma here a little bit.

Kasey Leander: Dropping the Euthypho. Pro Santa.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Because we should be representative of the character and nature of God as revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, would be the short answer.

Cameron McAllister: You haven't thought about that at all.

Kasey Leander: Half-baked answer, Nathan.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. The divine indicative is the predicate of the human imperative. God’s “isness.” This provides the foundation for human oddness. So there's that part of it, but it's more than that. I think...But goodness for goodness sake is the best that a lot of the world has to operate with. So I think if you're not a Christian, you should totally celebrate Santa Claus because that's your best hope for the season.

Kasey Leander: Hmm. Interesting.

Cameron McAllister: That might be the most devastating indictment that you've issued so far on that microphone.

Kasey Leander: I actually was strangely warmed by that idea. I kind of like that.

Cameron McAllister: Really? If you're not a Christian, Santa's the best you got. Here's your Coca Cola mascot to take you on home.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, who can sell you more corn syrup? Ho, ho, ho. I'm just saying so what I mean, what is the point of Christmas if you're not a Christian?

Cameron McAllister: Right? I suppose, yeah, celebrations, gifts, family time.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Which are all good things.

Kasey Leander: Allow me to cheese out for a minute and talk about one of my favorite films of all time, The Polar Express. Now have, have either of you seen The Polar Express?

Nathan Rittenhouse: No.

Cameron McAllister: No.

Kasey Leander: Wow. I can tell you right now you're missing out and probably thousands of people are rolling their eyes right now in their cars as they're listening to this.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh no they listen to us, they know how well-

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, we're not informed.

Kasey Leander: The Polar Express is a whimsical, it's a magical journey. Tom Hanks plays about two-thirds of the characters. It's great. You should watch it. At the very end there they roll up, they're all on a train ride to the North Pole. And so the question surrounding this kid as he's on this magical train ride is, "Is any of this real or is this just a dream? Like are we just hoping for hopes sake." And actually at the end they end up meeting Santa. He's there, and in fact, that's the purpose of the Polar Express is to bring doubting kids to the North Pole that they may encounter Santa's for themselves. For years actually growing up I'd watch this movie and I'd think "This is so flimsy. Ugh. Like, oh please.

Kasey Leander: Like we're just going to believe in things just because the belief itself is some sort of positive, hopeful thing. The last time I watched it last year, my opinion flipped 180.

Nathan Rittenhouse: It was last week, come on Kasey.

Kasey Leander: Okay. You're right. I'm not going to try and hide it. I love The Polar Express, all right. My opinion flipped 180 actually. Because what ends up happening, at least in the parameters of this film, is that they actually do encounter Santa and the evidence is actually there, again within the parameters of this very fictional journey by train, they encounter Santa and at the end there's evidence that they've encountered Santa. But beyond that, there's a moment where they sort of meet... Santa basically says, "I'm an embodiment of the of Christmas spirit." So they meet actually something that actually transcends what most of their day to day lives are. And I actually thought, "Okay, look, there's no substituting this for Jesus, right? There's nothing but Jesus at the core of reality." But boy, similar to like maybe an Aslan or other things that we pull from fiction, I actually find this to be a really powerful indicative, like a pointer almost, to that longing for, first of all, certainty, and then second of all for some sort of transcending goodness to actually encounter.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh okay, yes. I want to talk about this. You're talking about the longing for transcendence. But, where does Santa Claus live?

Kasey Leander: Well North Pole, of course.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So, okay, but is that not...That's still within our imminent frame. It's still within our Earth. And so the problem with the transcendence of Santa is he doesn't come from far enough away. He doesn't have a good enough morality and he doesn't bring a good enough gift. And so again, it points back to saying, if we're looking from within our closed naturalistic system, Santa makes total sense. He even lives within our world. And there's a bit of mystery around him. Now whether or not he uses slave labor to produce his toys, we can get into that. But he's-

Kasey Leander: Cheap shot at Santa.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, I'm going to back, Kasey, on that one.

Kasey Leander: They work for cookies. Sorry.

Cameron McAllister: Fair compensation.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm just saying it's still…I think that's part of the...He's within our frame of reference. I mean he's our own construction, so he's a transcendence that's safe and he's for children.

Cameron McAllister: A transcendence on our terms you might say. Well that brings us back around, I think full circle, to one of the questions that you sort of had at the beginning, Nathan. Which is, essentially, this is my own wording, but doesn't the Christian narrative have the resources really to furnish us with all that we need? In other words, Santa could be fun, sure. But he's kind of superfluous. We don't really need this. So that brings me to one of the traditions that we had in our household growing up. And this has meant so much to me and we do it every Christmas Eve. And I believe, I think my dad started this and I don't...It's kind of an unusual story. It's not usually...You don't hear it read that often in the United States, but in Russia it is associated with the Christmas season.

Cameron McAllister: But it's a story by Leo Tolstoy that's not that well remembered. It's called Where God is, Love is. And even...There's a wonderful biography of Tolstoy by A.N. Wilson, one of the best biographies I've read, and it doesn't even have a single line on the story, which really annoyed the tar out of me. But in the story you meet Martin Avdeitch, who's a cobbler in St. Petersburg.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I've read the children's story version of this, yeah.

Cameron McAllister: You've read the children's story version? So he has a dream that Christ will visit him. And so then he is eagerly expecting Jesus the entire next day. But in the meantime, as he's waiting, he notices all these different people who are in need. An old soldier who is stooped over trying to shovel snow who is about to collapse, brings him in. A woman who's doesn't have very good clothing and it's freezing out there and has a little child, brings them in. And he just takes care of all these people-

Nathan Rittenhouse: The boy stealing the apple from the old lady.

Cameron McAllister: The boy stealing the apple from the old lady, they're the last ones. And so then the day's over and he's disappointed because he thought, "I've been awaiting the savior." And then he falls asleep and then another vision happens and then "It is I, Martin." And all these people step forward. And then he reads the passage, "If you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me." And he knows he's been visited by Christ. And that's what we read every Christmas Eve. And it's a beautiful story because it communicates simultaneously the power of Emmanuel, God with us, the incarnation and also the ongoing sense of expectation and our vocation and our privilege of serving those around us. And seeing...And it also lends, and I'm using the word advisedly here, but an enchanting air, once again, not just to the season alone. I liked that you're getting...But to the cosmic vision, a narrative that is Christianity is a beautiful kind of dramatic point in the incarnation, but it continue throughout the entire...Of course.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I think that's so helpful to say, and I do not think at all that Santa Claus is a threat to Christ. It's not all, "Well, my team's losing so I'm curmudgeony about this." They're totally different, I think in some ways. So you're talking about that Christ-centered focus at the time of the year that still has the wonder and the enchantment too it. I was thinking of a couple of years ago after my grandfather had a stroke, of a time of family worship on Christmas, where he just prayed for us and wept at the goodness of God, and we all, I mean, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. We just sat there heavily as a family in the presence of God mind blown, being grateful. Santa wouldn't have fit in that moment. And actually even going to open presents felt like a distraction from the richness of what it is that we were in.

Nathan Rittenhouse: And so, I mean, my fear is giving fruit to your children is good. Giving them a styrofoam orange is bad. And so are we substituting a depth and a richness that God has made available to us, for an artificially flavored synthetic, and therefore missing out on some of the depth of the wonder in the presence of what God has for us to celebrate at this time of year. So again, it's not a head-butting competition. I think it's just a vision that's a little bit too low. And as followers of Christ, we want to be mindful of, and not dismissive of the holiday cheer and absolutely nobody needs to send Christmas presents to my children, we're taken care of that. I will go Christmas caroling and I was in a church Christmas program. We have the lights up at our house.

Kasey Leander: You're not a Scrooge, in other words.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I mean, give me a couple more years.

Kasey Leander: You're pretty Jolly yourself, Nathan, actually.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I think I usually bring some levity to the room. So I'm not against the joy, but I don't want an artificial pre-packaged joy. I want to be part of the real thing.

Kasey Leander: And man, this is where I absolutely yield my point. My point to you, Nathan. Surprise, we're all on the same page here. Because I think you're so right that if Santa is the only thing we have, he's not good enough, man. And it stales and it sours quickly. And weirdly enough, I actually think Polar Express, whether or not it intends to do this, points to that also because there's a sense of trying to hold onto that childhood image you have, but almost the impossibility of doing that, right?

Kasey Leander: Like, as a kid, even as a pretty rational kid, I was a thoughtful kid. There was a moment as a kid where I thought, "Wow, okay, reindeer maybe could have eaten this food." But actually as an adult, that's just not enough. And no matter how badly I want to stay in that innocence, I can't. And I shouldn't. But man, that story of you guys with your grandpa just sitting there and embracing God's actual presence, there's something we long for and it only matters if it's real. And because it is real, we would say as Christian, Santa points to something better, but I fully yield to your point, actually that is that if there's nothing better, it's a pretty sad excuse.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So it points to a fundamental longing of the human heart, but it's a pointer. It doesn't get us anywhere on that journey I think is where I would put that. Cameron, you were saying earlier, that I think just for the sake of getting the conversation started, I was creating a false dilemma. What are some of the principles that you would see of kind of holding them both and I think everybody who listens to this conversation hopefully just gave you some fun things to think about, but will have to wrestle with the different tensions in their own different cultures and traditions in their own theologies and the importance of these things for themselves. But what's going through your mind is kind of a wise Christian caution and affirmation of talking points for us as we engage with the little and the big people in our lives over the upcoming weeks?

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, I mean I've certainly can't solve this at all. I think we'll have been successful with this particular episode if we just helped you see that Santa is more than just a superficial or a trivial conversation. There's actually more going on here and it's worth exploring at greater depth. But I do think, on the one hand we can look at it and we can say "Yes, this is a byproduct of an imminent frame mindset where there's just nothing more in the Santa is all we've got." Or you can look at it simply as a fun, if somewhat hollow, cultural artifact that serves its time for a season, and then you kind of outgrow it.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So actually it's interesting like then when I was older, maybe like 10 years plus, then my mom started writing from Santa on our gifts. I think just to annoy me, maybe. But yeah, it was, "Ah, come on mom." And so we actually played into it more later in life once we were all certain of the fact that-

Kasey Leander: Well not you because little Nathan's like "Bah humbug, I don't believe any of this."

Cameron McAllister: Well I mean again I'm a little bit tone deaf to the joys of the Santa mythos cause I didn't grow up with it. So I don't really see too much of...I can understand some of the appeal, but it's a different experience now to watch to watch my son here and I find that I have stronger feelings on it than I thought I did and I'm not always as enthusiastic about it as say my wife is, which is really interesting. So trying to wrestle through that-

Nathan Rittenhouse: But some of that is nostalgia there too, which you don't want to trample upon.

Cameron McAllister: Exactly. Yeah. And so part of what...I mean, in a sense, this is one peculiar manifestation of the constant tension that we experience of being in the world but not of the world. And this is part of our context in North America. And especially if you have young kids in your household, you may find yourself wrestling with this a little bit. You kind of nailed it, Nathan, when you said, "I don't see Santa as in any way a threat to God." So because I don't see him as in any way offering really serious competition to the Christian story, I think he can offer serious competition if we're not sufficiently emphasizing the Christian story in our households. So that's my-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, I think that's well said.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, and I think that would be my primary admonition. I'm not sure if it's the most sage counsel, but for what I hope to do in my home and what we strive to do is to very clearly indicate that, "Yeah, Jesus is not the reason for the season. He is the reason for the fabric of reality," as you said. And then you went through you're own-

Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm making a coffee mug.

Cameron McAllister: Well then you went through the written house catechisms, which I really like, but I really want that to be the dominant vision, the dominant song of my household. And so within that kind of a context, Santa is free to be a fun fixture. But he's in no way a competition.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm sure my kids are making little Santa Clauses in school right now as we're having this conversation. But I think it brings back what you were saying there, Cameron of again, it's getting the horse in front of the cart and line it up and I liked that. What was your phrase? I want this to be the vision and the song of my household. I think I'm going to keep that.

Kasey Leander: I mean that's a good mug too.

Nathan Rittenhouse: That's a good mug too.

Cameron McAllister: Y'all can have it.

Nathan Rittenhouse: But I think we want to do that, that we want to lead with the depth of the narrative of who Christ is, what the fullness of the season can be and what it can be a reminder of, and then that we do want to have Christ be the vision and the song of our households in this Christmas season. Well, thank you guys for listening in. Hopefully I don't get publicly stoned anytime soon for my views on Santa Claus. But you've been listening to Thinking Out Loud, a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope.

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