The Day When
Santa Claus Died
Thomas V. Taylor
In my boyhood home the Lord was not recognized, although some other persons, like Santa Claus, were well known. The Gospel came to us years later and brought the refreshing truth of Jesus, but in those earlier days we were just an average secular family. We made a lot out of religious holidays but very little out of the real issues behind them.
So this story takes place in December of 1931, when I was a mere three-and-a-half years old and was celebrating my fourth Christmas. The depression was on, and we were living with my mother's parents in their neat little brick home at 1338 Merryfiled St., in Pittsburgh, PA. My grandfather was a civil service worker in the government. His job was secure, but our circumstances were not; and so my parents, little brother, and I were living with our much-loved "Granny and Pop."
Since Christmas was coming they had assured me that Santa Claus had something for good little boys of which I, of course, was one! Accordingly, we had been put to bed as early as possible on Christmas Eve with dire threats of what happened to children who peeked or who did not go to sleep. Assurances were given that when Santa came we would know it and the sooner we went to sleep the sooner he would come. It wasn't easy, but we were soon in the dreamless sleep of those who live in the hopes of wishes fulfilled.
Sometime later we were awakened by my mother and were told that Santa Claus was there to see us; we must come down. I needed no urging. Gathering our robes, we held hands and descended to the parlor where The Great Man was standing. He was rather round and short, with a huge beard that hid all of his face but his eyes, and he spoke in a deep, almost muffled voice.
I cannot remember all he said, but eventually he offered me a gift, and as I reached to take it I suddenly realized he was wearing Pop's shoes. In amazement I asked my mother, "Why is he wearing Pop's shoes?" There were strong efforts to quell the question and some nasty idea that if I didn't want the gift.... But I did want the gift, and I dropped the questions. As I returned to my bed, however, I looked again--he was wearing my grandfather's shoes!
I was allowed to open the gift, a little iron truck, and I took it to bed with me cradling it under my arm. But within me I saw not only the shoes, but the eyes and the rotund figure, and I heard the rasping voice. And I realized in a sad way that Santa Claus had never been there at all. It was just my dear Pop being nice again.
I did not challenge the reality of the legend for another year, for one should not take unnecessary chances where gifts are concerned. But somehow I knew the truth, and the legendary figure was dead. In the days to come I made sure that Pop knew what I wanted for my next Christmas, and I stopped going to department stores and dictating letters for my mother to send to the North Pole.
Some years later a friend said that if children believe in Santa Claus, it makes it harder for them to believe in Jesus. That might happen to someone, I suppose, but it was not my experience. When I clearly heard the Gospel nearly fourteen years later, my heart was gripped with the truth of the One who came and died in my place. There was no legend; there was evidence and record. There were no fabrications; there was the witness of the apostles. There was no magical hocus pocus; there was the reality of forgiveness and peace with God. No one contrived a myth, for there was the record of truth to be read; and nothing needed to be added to it. So clear, simple, and forceful the Gospel was and is. How strongly supported by all the Word of God and the work of the Lord Jesus!
This is why Peter advises us that "we have not followed cunningly devised fables" (2 Peter 1:16), when the apostles gave the message of the Lord Jesus. They were "eyewitnesses of his majesty." With their ears they had heard the voice on the mount and had entered into an appreciation of the Savior in the reality of his person. There was no fable, no orally related tale from centuries gone. There was instead the actual participation of some very competent persons in a revelatory scene of heavenly proportions.
But Peter does not stop with this. He notes that there was a "more sure word of prophecy given by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (v.19). We do well, of course, to pay attention to Scripture. It is, after all, the witness of our own new birth, a line of truth that abides forever.
What has always amazed me is that you can stare at the Gospel account as minutely as you wish-- no errors or flaws are seen in it apart from unbelieving speculation. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming Savior in frequent detail in ways that could not have been falsified. The Gospel writers recorded the fulfillment of the prophecies and the historical reality of the birth of the Lord. Those who followed them in the New Testament recorded their witness of the actual death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. There is no sham here; the shoes do not belong to another. The presentation is not forced.
I realize that the factual basis of the Gospel does not make people believe. But it is enormously encouraging to those of us who do believe. I might also add that the reality of believing in any field known to me always precedes the factual nature of the matter. We do not prove first principles, as Gordon Clark once said. We accept them and then test and refine and restate them. So while the bulk of the witness might not compel belief, it does a lot to strengthen belief and to reassure one of the correctness of a faith placed in the Lord Jesus.
This helps us understand why Bible critics are so vehement in their attacks on Scripture. The only way in which they can justify their ideals or hopes is in finding fault with the Word of God. And that is what delights our souls:
no fault is found in the Word of God. It stands sure, correct, precise, and convicting.
Therefore in the face of all that changes and deteriorates, the faith of believers continues sure, as sure as is the Word. In this year as in others there will be political debates and realignments of forces, and many new challenges for each of us. But the Lord Jesus is the Rock, and the certainty of His resurrection and present ministry encourages us in the face of all else that is uncertain.
I am not saying that I learned all of that on one day when I was three-and-a-half years old. I am saying that I have learned to tell the difference between the traditions of men and the truth of God. When the traditions of men die, they are simply gone. But the Word of God lives and abides forever, and it is that on which we build.
We unashamedly stand for the redemptive truth, a Bible that does not have to be treated for error and myth, but records the love of God expressly shown to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. The reality of that truth will not die and continues to give life and light to persons everywhere who will believe it.
Santa Claus may no longer play a big part in your thinking -- even the truth-telling image of George Washington may be challenged. But in Jesus we have not followed devised fables; rather, we have believed the sure Word of God and by it believed on the Savior to the saving of our souls.
(Tom Taylor is professor emeritus of Old Testament and Church History at Biblical Theological Seminary. He is a good friend of mine, perhaps most affectionately remembered as my first teacher of Hebrew -- although his wonderful impact on my life and ministry goes much deeper than just that. We appreciate his permission to print the above article, which originally appeared in The Biblical Bulletin, Issue No. 80; Winter, 1993. --FGZ)