When I was in college I played Santa every year. My family lived overseas and sent me the Christmas list since US prices were a lot cheaper for consumer goods.
Once I got home as the only one who knew who was getting what, I’d wrap most of the presents, even dress up and hand out the presents Christmas morning. It was a family tradition.
Of course like any good lit major I was also extremely skeptical about most things. Wasn’t Santa just an invention of Coca Cola now serving as a kind of patron saint of mindless consumerism? Wasn’t he a cuddly superficial distraction from the inherent exploitation and oppression somewhere along the supply chain, if not the sweatshop labor then the very earth itself?
Santa seemed to have replaced Jesus in our collective psyche, more of a symbol of the lowest common denominators of greed and manipulable desire than emptying and sacrifice.
And the whole tree business. I didn’t get it. “You guys! Jesus is here! Let’s go slowly destroy some trees!”
Contemplative teachers take a more nuanced spin on the whole affair: Santa is who we’re supposed to become.
Santa is the giver, a figure of indiscriminate pure generosity, without expecting anything at all in return. OK, maybe a cookie and some milk here and there, but hey, we all have to eat.
What a Santa gives is not just presents, but presence. And the tree, the evergreen, represents an ever present life.
And the gift is offered to everyone.
Ideally, on the small scale, during the moment we open the present, we’re also fully present, taking in the size, the shape, the texture of the paper, fully engaged.
It’s this kind of presence that’s the real gift. If we can accept presence, give presence, abide in presence, there’s a much deeper liberation from the kind of desire and kitschy shadow show we often turn Christmas into as a culture.
By abiding in presence we learn to dwell in an infinite love for all that is; the boundaries of the other, the object, and the me begin to dissolve. Need dissolves. Desire dissolves. What I want for Christmas is this kind of presence, infinite capacity to give without receiving, because there’s no me that needs.
To make this shift, from what can I get from Santa, to how do I become Santa, so to speak, requires a downward journey. This is even hinted at in our Christmas songs: everyone is forgiven now.
But it’s we who have to examine who it is we need to forgive. Are we willing to forgive everyone who’s ever hurt us? Are we willing to let go of whatever pain we cling to for identity? Are we willing to let go of whatever pain we’ve caused others, to experience forgiveness? Are we willing to drop the victim-victimizer game? The power struggle the ego wants to engage in?
That kind of freedom puts us in a place to be pure giver. Maybe they need to dump their pain. Maybe they need to spew their displaced pain in the form of political or religious or self serving opinions. We know this from holiday dinners.
Our contemplative path is about learning to become the safe haven for that kind of pain without threat of counterattack. Forgiveness can be both for our own longstanding wounds or right in the moment when someone is going off about whatever their pet issue is.
That’s one aspect of Christmas, of incarnation, of willingly entering into the human sphere knowing full well it means rejection and death, and doing it anyway, there’s evergreen hope in accepting a deeper reality than surface rejection.
A radically contemplative Christmas is that kind of light in the dark.
Thomas Keating Christmas Reflection on The Magi
Richard Rohr on Presence and the Home of Love
Shunyamurti on Santa Claus and Forgiveness