Our dear friend, Sam, forwarded Jesus Is Better Than Santa to me a few days before Christmas. It was just what I needed to get started with my post on St. Nicholas.
“I’ll send you the link when I’m done,” I emailed back.
Looking for Santa
Early October I began setting up the “Kids” page on our church website. Since I really didn’t know much about Santa, our dear St. Nicholas, I wanted kids to learn about his background; but I also wanted fun stuff— stories, prayers, games, things to do, and more— without the commercialism.
Tough expectations, I thought, until I serendipitously received the first link, Santa Claus and the North Pole, from a friend who’d discovered the site with her granddaughters.
I was impressed with the site’s versatility and the recipes from the kitchen of Mrs. Claus; but I persisted with my online search nevertheless until found a few worthwhile sites on the life of St. Nicholas, his wonder-worker status, and an interesting chapel tour.
Thinking about Christmas
Growing up, I neither visited Santa at the department store nor wrote him a letter; and I never asked for Christmas gifts.
Sure, my brother and I were curious about wrapped gifts hidden in the closet or under the tree. Christmas presents were a big mystery to unravel, but on Christmas Day we were glad for whatever we received.
As an adult, however, I didn’t want to participate in gift exchanges at work or at home with either family or friends. I went through the motions ’cause guilt is an awful monster to deal with, but my heart was never in it. Too costly, too time-consuming, too stressful.
I’ll admit, though, that one Christmas season— the first time I’d driven to the main post office for stamps during the holidays— I discovered Santa’s mailbox near the entryway.
I was really excited, but the weather turned bad. I decided the drive wouldn’t be worth my while, but I did give the letter a lot of thought.
My kids no longer live at home, so they wouldn’t find out. Besides, if anyone saw me mail a letter to Santa, they’d think I was dropping it off for a child.
I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t know what to ask for much less how to write my letter; so the bad weather merely gave me an out.
Looking back I have to wonder what I told my kids about Santa when they were young.
Growing up mom used to say, “Christmas isn’t about the presents. It’s every little thing we do for each other throughout the year,” but my perspective differs somewhat.
While we agree that Christmas Mass commemorates the joyous celebration of the birth of Christ and sparks heartfelt gratitude throughout the year, we totally disagree on the commercial aspect of Christmas.
I prefer sharing homemade goods and spending time together talking, laughing, eating, not gifting last-minute, store-bought presents stemming from guilt.
Living on a shoestring budget, I spoke to Mom off and on about making Christmas shopping less stressful.
“Why don’t we draw names instead? The adults will be fine with one gift, and the kids will still receive gifts as usual,” I suggested. “In fact, I’m perfectly fine not receiving any gifts. All of us already have everything we need, and we can buy what we want on our own.”
“You don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to,” Mom told me.
Based on mom’s tone of voice and her facial expressions, Christmas traditions would continue as they had for years. I’d be excused from gift giving, but she wouldn’t bring up gift exchange options to the other family members.
In essence I was the only one granted immunity from the insanity. This meant that everyone would shop for everyone else while I didn’t have to unless, of course, my guilt got the better of me.
But why does it have to be this way?
Mom’s mixed messages were a year-round agony. With each month of the year Christmas loomed big, bigger, biggest. Spending at Christmas meant having to spend on other special occasions, too.
I saw it as a never-ending money pit. And never mind that I’ve never enjoyed shopping for others because I had to do it.
Additionally, my nonconformity weighed me down so much that I dreaded the holidays. I was resentful of the commercialism, resentful that I couldn’t relax during our two weeks off from school, resentful of having to accept mom’s ways.
If Christmas is truly about celebrating God’s gift to us, then why bother with the commercialism?
Nevertheless, my kids always sided with mom. They loved gifts, so Christmas was all about presents and being at mom’s house during the holidays.
I, on the other hand, was always the family misfit who never got Christmas right.
Then came the first of two of the most grueling years of my life in 2004, thanks to the self-inflicted UH chaos that both exasperated and revitalized me.
My only escape came very late each night when I flopped onto bed with my rosary beads. As I lay in an almost catatonic state in the dark, the repetitive prayers were fulfilling and purposeful until I’d peacefully fall asleep.
That entire summer I took three whopper online courses that left time for only late morning Mass on Sunday and, on occasion, quick stops for supplies at Kmart, Staples, and Walmart on the way home.
Twelve-thirty Mass at St. Mary’s was the big event in my week. I celebrated my visits to God’s house by dressing up for the special occasion. I told God I needed only him in my solitary life. He was with me day and night through my doctoral studies and all else.
Autumn followed, accompanied by my elementary school teaching assignment and all the extras: grading papers, writing lesson plans and timelines, and so much more.
My responsibilities grew enormously as the semester progressed, and Christmas break included developing a training session— a last-minute holiday assignment from the principal— that my teacher-buddy, Elsa, and I were to present to our campus paraprofessionals our first day back at work, January 2005.
Although Elsa and I had met a couple of times to plan the overview, the responsibility was mine alone; so I put in very long hours each day. I enjoyed the self-imposed challenge, but sometime past eight P.M. on Christmas Eve I was suddenly distracted.
Sitting by the window in the front bedroom I looked onto the street from my thoughtful spot at the computer and had a revelation.
I’ll write a letter to Santa. Anyway, God will listen. Together they’ll work it out.
For almost three-and-a-half hours I worked on the letter. It wasn’t easy. I had to be sure my words were precise but, eventually, I organized my thoughts into three lists: what I want, what I’m willing to compromise on, the deal breakers.
Then, just as I completed the letter, I heard my neighbors’ grown children out in their front yard so I looked out the window from where I sat.
What’s going on?
“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” Lucy’s kids and grandkids shouted as they hopped around gleefully on their front lawn next door.
It was midnight, and they were all excited.
What are they saying?
I couldn’t make out what they were so ecstatic about. I listened intently, couldn’t believe my ears, went to the front door, opened it to take a look and…
Sure enough. It was snowing!!!
Would you believe it?
As I’d completed my letter to Santa snow had fallen, this based on when the commotion from Lucy’s kids had started. Nevertheless, being a scientist at heart, I was quite skeptical. As far as I knew Brownsville hadn’t seen snow in my lifetime. Or maybe even at all.
I closed the door and walked back to my work space, and he doorbell rang.
My next-door neighbor had sent over a plate of food with Eric and Mary. Lucy’s grandkids were so wired that they went on and on about the snow, which I insisted was only ice.
Once the kids left I returned to my letter, printed it, and taped it onto the closet door.
I continued working on the prototype for the paraprofessionals’ inservice till four-something. I’d attended early evening Mass, so I didn’t have to think about being out and about in the morning.
On rising hours later I opened the front door. Everything was covered with white slush. The sun was out and Lucy’s family, still making a big deal out of the snow, was outdoors.
I refuted the obvious. Snow could never fall in Brownsville. It’s way too tropical for that. But one thing I could bank on was having a legitimate excuse not to drive to mom’s for Christmas dinner and have to deal with the guilt of not having bought gifts.
I continued working without giving Santa’s letter a second thought that day.
Between then and fall 2005, however, I did read through the three lists to Santa at least twice. I wasn’t wishing. I was merely checking my lists to see if I still agreed with what I’d written.
I forgot the snow as if it’d never happened and, the following year, refused to acknowledge the unexpected miracle even when the book with the Christmas photos sold in stores.
I never made the connection between the specialness of the snow and my letter to Santa on Christmas Eve!
Interestingly nonetheless, something did begin to happen less than eleven months later.
Immersed in my studies and way too inundated by work to have paid attention, my life, personally and professionally, began to change. The more I tried to stay on track with daily decades-old routines the more I was drawn, pushed, and forced in other directions.
My life was unbelievably comical and out of control! Every situation was exaggerated and discombobulated. Caution led to upheavals; acceptance to change, good outcomes. Figuratively, doors slammed in my face in my relatively-stable-until-then life.
At the same time I glided through unknowns that I’d never seriously considered would lead to my future life— all this after Dr. Weber, our research methodologist, had advised against making changes during our doctoral studies. We had too much going on in to tackle anything else.
Nevertheless, God introduced Steven and me through a smile, a simple electronic postcard through a trusted Christian network.
Scenarios evoked laughter and disbelief as our life became a flowchart of endless possibilities pushing us together quickly. Life spun out of control beyond imagining.
We fell in love with each other’s mind before meeting face to face for the first time in one month’s time, Friday, December second. Totally nutz!
The more we tried to slow down our long-distance relationship, the more we were catapulted to events and dates we hadn’t even discussed so we agreed to let God take over our lives. We stopped fighting the inevitable, since God’s master plan included a rushed special delivery in time for our first Christmas.
Even now we’re still God’s bestest gift to each other. And God continues to stay in touch through impeccably timed Easter egg messages.
Three lists revisited
For instance, several months after we got married I serendipitously discovered my letter to Santa. Reading through the lists I couldn’t believe my eyes! Every single item on the what I want list had come true down to the very last detail. And then some!
My eyes watered as I recalled Christmas Eve 2004. God had indeed been listening!
God’s master plan
Mind you, we have our days like everyone else. We struggle, we fall, we pick ourselves up. But, on occasion, we wonder what if until God, in his infinite goodness, faithfully communicates through perfectly timed messages like those received during Mass last Saturday.
First, my eyes watered as I read through the previous day’s meditation: Zechariah’s doubts changed to trust and belief in God’s message.
Lord, let me trust you, even in difficult times. Fill me with your Spirit, and equip me to proclaim what you have spoken in the silence of my heart! (the Word among us, Advent 2008, p. 42).
Next, Father Xaviour’s homily resonated with the fullness of truth as if he’d known exactly what I’d been feeling.
Accept and become a servant of God’s master plan. With God nothing is impossible.
Then, after communion, the gold goose egg dropped out of the sky.
Heavenly Father, I ask you for a sign today. Show me that you are with me…. Let me rely on you as the one who provides for my deepest longings (p. 43).
The enormity of the triple-treat revelation blew me away!
Looking back, my letter to Santa led to God’s gift of love.
“Ask and you shall receive… for the one who asks, receives” (Mt. 7:7-8). And then “look for signs of God’s love, even silly signs, signs that make sense only to us” (Meyer, 2008).
The unexpected miracle of snow at midnight Christmas Eve, 2004, had been God’s special way of acknowledging my request. Just as it’d been his wish that Santa deliver the gift of marriage within a year’s time.
Finally, revisiting Sam’s forward, yes. Jesus is better than Santa.
But personally? I prefer to keep Christmas year ’round.
When needs are “great and the crisis so near,” it’s okay to turn to Santa, our dear
St. Nicholas, the wonder-worker, for “a happy ending” (Perrotta in the Word among us, Advent 2008, p. 55).
When we humble ourselves and accept God’s master plan, Santa does indeed make good on his deliveries regardless of the time involved.
December 23, 2012
Mary went without delay to communicate her joy to her cousin Elizabeth…. This is the real commitment of Advent: to bring joy to others. Joy is the true gift of Christmas, not expensive presents that demand time and money (Pope Benedict XVI in the Word among us, Advent 2012, p. M59).
December 9, 2013
God, our Father, we pray that through the intercession of St. Nicholas you will protect our children. Keep them safe from harm and help them grow and become worthy in your sight. Give them strength to keep their faith in you; and to keep alive their joy in your creation. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
May 23, 2014
When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women (Venerable Fulton J. Sheen).
September 30, 2014
“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart” (St. Jerome).
November 24, 2015
We do not define ourselves as men or as women through our work, our house, our health, or our reputation. We define ourselves as men and women through the way we love (Chiara Corbella Petrillo).
December 1, 2015
“Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom— it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another”
(St. John Paul II).
December 18, 2015
“Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial”
(St. John Paul II).
July 6, 2016
Jesus has invested marriage with a dignity which represents something quite new in reference to all that we have considered until now. He raised it to the rank of a sacrament. He made of this sacred bond a specific source of grace. He transformed marriage— already sacred in itself— into something sanctifying (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: The mystery of faithful love).
December 6, 2016
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven” (George Bernard Shaw).
“Our first great responsibility is to be a family, a community, revealing first to one another something of God’s love and concern and tenderness” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta).
Pdf file… Jesus is better than Santa
Links of interest… All about Christmas: festive family fun / games, coloring, & more / inspiration / recipes / songs / North Pole / stories & poems (more) / traditions… Doing what Christ has done… Excited for Christmas, but not the Christmas season… Five unexpected lessons about thinking… He isn’t Santa, but he gives us what we need… Isaiah: The prophet of Christmas… Lessons in growing up… Marriage: adventure & crisis / as martyrdom / Catholic / dangers of “filler relationships” / five steps to surviving a crisis / fostering holy matrimony / lifetime / sacramental light in the darkness / trusting in God’s help… Prayer of a single person… Presence not presents… Santa Claus: about / do you believe in / North Pole Times (news, games, & more) / origin / sanctity / setting up a news alert / village / website (site index)… St. Nicholas: about (more) / anecdote / biography / bishop (more) / chapel tour / chapels / crafts (more) / devotions / ecards / facts / feast (Dec 6) / gift giver (more) / history / legacy / miracles & deeds / patron (more) / prayers / saint / societies / still lives at the North Pole / story / truth / visit / wonder-worker… Strange story of a real-life Santa Claus… White Christmas… Why my kids get letters from St. Nick every year… the Word among us…
WP posts… Advent prayers… Blue heaven… Budding relationships… Christmas blessings… Christmas year ’round… Church time blues… Concrete abstraction… Faith and prayer… Making meaning… Morning exchanges… My Franciscan Crown… October novena… Oh, happy day… On being Christian… One prayer… Our Lady… Picturing God… Powerful intercessor… Prayer power… Promise of hope… Revisiting St. Simon… Santo Niño… St. Anthony Claret… St. Jude novena… St. Jude Shrine (Chicago)… St. Jude Shrine (Corpus Christi, TX)… Sweet Jesus… Thanksgiving prayers
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