One year, when I was about seven, it dawned on me the afternoon of Christmas Eve...I wasn’t good enough. Not in a self-esteem-in-a-vacuum sort of way, but in a naughty-vs-nice sort of way. I’d been mean to my sister WAY too many times. I’d whined when my mom asked me to help her clean the kitchen. I’d taken cookies without asking. My room was a mess. But mostly I knew it was that mean part that made me not good enough. And I was seriously worried that Santa might not come.
What if I didn’t get any presents? --Or worse, what if I got coal? But what bothered me even more than the presents and the shame was my own meanness. I didn’t like it when my heart felt stingy and angry. I didn’t like thinking about how good I wasn’t.
I decided to change, right then and there. Santa was probably already soaring through the night sky over the Orient and probably wouldn’t be revising his list this late in the game, but it was still worth a try. We listened to the radar report; he’d reached the middle east. Not much time left. I tried to be extra nice to my sister. I let her play with my doll. I let her win at Yahtzee. I tried as hard as I could to do everything single little thing my mom asked me. I had already helped making candies and cookies, sending myself to batter-licking nirvana. I volunteered to wrap presents, even though I knew it was too late. Then I served my dad. I gave him one of those neck rubs he loves, then ran my fingers through his hair...and kept doing it for [what seemed like] hours. And I didn’t complain when it was time to go to bed.
I hoped it would work. I knew it was a last-ditch effort. But it was sincere.
That Christmas morning I was strangely not tempted to badger my parents to go out and see what was under the tree. I was still scared. What if my efforts weren’t enough to make up for a year of badness and meanness? Santa might not have brought me any presents at all. Fear and dread kept me from dashing out there to take a peek. I got dressed. I cleaned my room. I made my bed. I helped my mom stir orange juice for breakfast, and didn’t wince when she called it Juice-y.
Finally, I could stall no longer. Mom and Dad had us line up in the hallway and sing a Christmas carol, with me leading the way. I walked to the familiar chair where Santa always tucked my presents, and found it full-to-overflowing. Santa came after all. I could hardly believe my eyes...or my luck.
What I learned that Christmas has lasted a lifetime. Because that year I learned about mercy and grace. I knew that, despite my change of heart, no amount of effort on a cold Christmas eve could possibly right the wrongs of an entire year. And yet there were gifts. Unearned, undeserved gifts. Rewards for faith and a change of heart. Forgiveness.
It reminded me of this spread from What Think Ye of Christmas:
Some parents choose not to teach their children about the wonder of Santa Claus. (Let alone elves, reindeer, and a sleigh that circles the globe in a single night.) And I can understand why. But I would suggest that Santa is a symbol. A kind, bearded man who invites children to come and sit on his knee and tell him their dreams...”Suffer the children to come unto me”...and then showers them with gifts...is clearly a metaphor. I think believing in the goodness of Santa gives way to our faith in an all-knowing, pure-loving Lord who invites even the weakest among us to Come Unto Him. We tell him our struggles, our sorrows, our hopes...he invites us to change our hearts...and then He showers us with blessings, grace, and forgiveness.
There could be no greater gift.