A Haven for Vee

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Santa Debate

Now I don't want to open a can of worms here. No. I really don't. I just loathe rocking the boat. (Mrs. G., stop chuckling!) But I found this letter written by Mark Twain to his little girl Susie away back forever ago and found it so utterly charming, whimsical, even magical that I wanted to share it here in its entirety:

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning


I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters--I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself--and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.

There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak--otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here--I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall--if it is a trunk you want--because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all--so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag--else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"


My own children, now long grown, began their childhoods by believing in and loving the "Santa" part of Christmas. On the day that my son climbed into my lap and earnestly told me that he loved Jesus all year long, but at Christmastime he loved Santa best, I felt that we had a problem. A big problem. I believe that he was nearly five that year and his sister was 7.

So I purchased the most beautiful picture book of the story of Christmas...not that the true story of Christmas had not been already shared, but because I was about to do Santa in and I thought the exquisite picture book would help in the task. Their father was very supportive of this idea and one evening a few weeks before Christmas we all climbed into the sofa bed before the Christmas tree and I presented the story. Then, as gently as possible, we told them that Santa was a real person who loved the Lord and that he now lived in heaven with God.

Ohhhhhhh, the wailing! Ohhhhhhh, the weeping! Ohhhhhhhhh, the intense sorrow and sobbing. My husband and I stared at one another over the tops of the children's shaking shoulders and grimaced at one another. Dear Lord, what had we done???? So our poor kids went through the holidays grieving St. Nicholas's death more than 1700 years before. Sad. When I botch something, I really do it completely! This very story was just repeated to me a few weeks ago by my daughter and son. They can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was very traumatic for them.

In hindsight, I wish that I had never allowed them to believe in Santa. Why? Because the Christ of Christmas should not have to compete with the fat man in the flying sleigh who gifts children with all the desires of their expanding greed. There's more wonder in the true story of Christmas than ever needs to be supplemented with the fairy tale. I am not sure how Christian parents balance the two. What's been your experience?

Picture Source (link broken, but picture allowed to stand)


  1. Vee, I see no one wants to step into this one! Hmmmm...you have a good point. I'll be back later...once I've got this whole Santa dilemma figured out!

  2. Mmmm- Loved the letter by Mark Twain. We think that as long as The Real Reason for the Season is stressed as the most important -everything falls in line- from the parties, the mounds of gifts, the yummy food, and , yes, even santa. The Nativity is placed above all other decorations and is a special tradition when it is time to be pulled out. The advent calendar contains scriptures and biblical instruction each day, and the carols sung sing of Christ's birth. Those things, when shined to glow brighter than the star at the top of the Christmas tree, are the ones that will stick long past a jolly man with a beard. Blessings to you for your sweet and meaningful post,
    kari & kijsa

  3. BRAVO! We have always had Santa as part of our decor, all in good fun but the emphasis has always been put on the true meaning of Christmas. Sadly I was not a believer when my children were small so we did the Santa thing. My son and daughter-in-love have chosen not to emphasize Santa and to focus on Christ. They are not sure how they will handle him not spilling the beans to other children when the time comes but they will cross that bridge when they come to it. If I could do it differently, I would. One story I heard was that a family told their children there was no Santa but not to spoil it for other children who did not believe the same and when they saw a person dressed as Santa they would use a secret wink, becasue they knew the TRUE meaning of Christmas! I loved the fanciful letter all the same! Merry Christmas Vee!
    Miss Sandy

  4. This is a very well written post. The Letter of Mark Twain was very sweet. We did the Santa thing with our children but we always put Christ first. We baked aBirthday cake for Jesus each Christmas and sang Happy Birthday to him and we still do. Thanks for this wonderful post. Mary

  5. I like Santa as part of Christmas...but he's in no way the most important part. Jesus obviously in the Reason for the Season. I think He's why I love the magic and the wonder of Christmastime because without Jesus and God and all that is good in the world, this wouldn't BE such a magical time...it wouldn't feel pure and warm and wouldn't make my spirits soar. Santa's funny and serves his purpose, but really - he's but a bit character in this huge production called life. I have the most wonderful memories of my children's faces on Christmas morning...shining with delight at the things "Santa" had left them. I also have some funny memories of them looking at the Santa down at the local mall like he was an alien being that they didn't want to get too close to. Santa as a "concept" was great for them. Santa as a "reality"...not so much. lol
    Here's the thing, though, Vee...if you regret how you handled it because it caused your kids such trauma and yet they still retain their love of Jesus Christ and always have, which was the bigger problem for you?....taking away their belief in Santa because he just isn't real or taking away their belief in Santa because you were afraid you hadn't taught them well enough about Jesus? I think that, as it turns out, you DID teach your children well and maybe didn't have to set them straight about Santa in quite that way. I believe that it's okay to believe in Santa...because Santa is more of a code name for that wonderful, peaceful, warm and giving feeling most of us have at Christmas. And everybody knows that without God - those feelings wouldn't exist in the first place so it must be okay with Him, too. But this is just my opinion (as under-valued as it may be. lol).

  6. Well, what's wrong with this? Not one thing. It is as charming as Mr Twain intended it to be. It is just lovely and I think next to the Sun's "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" perhaps my favorite. I read Jodie's (my GreatNeice now living in Japan) post about what all her Dad had done for them and then the breakup of the family and the realization that all of Santa was all of him and it made me cry. Thanks Vee, this cheered me.