Santa's Tears


Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and the workshop and the packing and distribution centers at the North Pole were dark. It was about a quarter past 8 pm, and I was just finishing up the list. (I volunteer each year, working with the group that handles Santa’s delivery list.) Even though this is the busiest time of the year as everyone makes preparation for Santa’s Christmas Eve deliveries, he insists that all work stop at 8 pm. There are two shifts — 6 am to 1 pm and 1 pm to 8 pm — because Santa wants all the North Pole regulars and the volunteers to have time to spend with family and friends. For Santa time together — working together, cooking together, shopping together — is the most important part of the holiday season.
There are several trees that are lit during the work day, but Santa wants them off after everyone leaves for the day. He is very energy conscious. So as I was making my way back to my room, I thought it strange to see the colored LED lights sparkling on the tree in Santa’s otherwise dark office. He must have been called away, and his assistant forgot to turn off the lights. Since Santa’s door is never locked, I thought nothing of going to his office to unplug the tree.
However, when I walked in, and flipped on the office lights, I was surprised to see Santa in his chair behind the desk.
“Sorry,” I said more than a little embarrassed. “I did not know you were here, and I just came in to turn off the tree lights.”
“No worries,” Santa said. “I am glad that you thought to come to turn them off.”
There was a deep sadness in his voice, and tears were streaming down his face. I was more than a little taken aback because I have never seen Santa cry. He is usually a force of natural energy, of living breathing goodwill with a hearty infectious laugh. He can always find the blessing in any situation, and have you thanking whatever god you serve for the privilege of the experience. I have also seen his righteous indignation. His anger can shake the walls around him. And the thing that angers him most is cruelty and stupidity that make life harder for children. But, I have never seen him cry.
“Are you alright?” I asked cautiously.
“Yes, I ‘m fine.”
“Do you need me to get you something?”
“No. But you can sit here a while with me.”
I took a seat on the sofa across from his desk. We sat in silence for a long while watching the lights on the tree. Then he spoke as if he were talking to the cosmos.
“You know children think I am magic. And in a way I am magic to them for the time when they are young and Christmas is its own brand of miracle. Then they grow older; I do not come to their house anymore; they become adults with the responsibility of creating the Christmas magic for children. Childhood is so short. Adult responsibility is so long. Christmas magic is at once ethereal and eternal. Every year it amazes me as if for the first time.
“Shakespeare was correct to call Christmas a “hallowed and gracious” time. But it does not have the power to drive away inexplicable evil. It just doesn’t. I think about spiritual matters since I carry the DNA of saints and gods from religions, folk tales, and ancient myths. By the way did you ever do your DNA ancestry?”
“I did. Turns out I am a descendant of the black Vikings.”
Santa smiled. “So your African ancestors migrated to Scandinavia and the British Isles? I bet you found some of your DNA in Ireland.”
“I did!” surprised that Santa would know this.
“And so it is with my DNA. I started out as St. Nicholas from the Christian tradition, patron saint to among other things, children, merchants, and repentant thieves. As Christianity migrated north into Europe, the Dutch pronunciation of St. Nicholas was SinterKlass which became Santa Claus in English. The Christian celebration of the birth of Christ came at the same time as the Yule celebration of the Winter Solstice in Europe and the two celebrations merged. Along with that merger, came the Norse god Odin, who was the father of the Yule celebration. He rode across the sky on a night time hunt and came down the chimney at Yule time. The long white beard comes from Odin. His white horse became reindeer, and thanks to Clement C. Moore’s poem, the legend of Santa coming down the chimney to bring toys for children is now a permanent part of my mythology.
And, when I say mythology, I do not mean that which is not true, but rather the truth that can only be told through a narrative. People make a mistake when they expect me and my legend to be the literal truth. Children grow up and learn that I am the personification of the magic that is the blessedness and graciousness of generosity.”
I wanted to ask Santa why he was sitting in the dark on the night before the night before Christmas in tears. I resisted the urge to ask. Sometimes silence, presence, listening are the best gifts we can give.
“Speaking of narrative, the writer who captures my spirit the best is Charles Dickens in ‘A Christmas Carol.’ I am the Ghost of Christmas present. I bring the joy of Christmas with me wherever I go. And like the second ghost, I have a special concern for the poor. When the ghost shows Scrooge the children underneath his robes — Ignorance and Want — he issues a stern warning that we fail to hear every Christmas. We think the story is about giving a contribution to help the poor at Christmas time. The better thing to do is to establish a political economy that eradicates the source of both ignorance and want. However if people ever hear me say this, I will no longer be a saint to be tolerated and mythologized, but I will be a radical worthy of destruction.
Every year as I prepare to deliver toys to children all over the world, I think of how the world systems of economics and politics sacrifice children on the altars of this or that ideology, and all I can do is weep. We sacrifice children to our will to power and to our greed. The coming of the Christ Child also brought the slaughter of the innocents because one man was desperate to hold onto power.
Children in Syria and around the globe are living through hellacious wars because adults that ought to know better cannot sit down and reason together. I weep for them. I still weep for the children killed at Sandy Hook and all the children killed in school violence before and since, sacrificed on the altar of guns. I weep for the 133 children slaughtered in a school in Pakistan because of a culture of vengeance and the backward idea that ignorance is a good thing. I weep for the kidnapped Nigerian boys and girls also victims of a fear of knowledge. I weep for Tamir Rice. The child was playing with his toy gun when a police officer kills him in less than three seconds. Three seconds. I do not know if blue on black violence is a function of fear or racial bias or the idea that because they wear a badge that police are above the law or all of the above. At the same time, I weep for the police officers shot to death in New York City by a man who needed mental health care. It was not that long ago that these officers were children themselves.
I weep because tears is another way to pray. I weep because at the end of the day, at the end of this blessed holy season, people have to understand that they themselves are the hands and feet of God. This season in the northern hemisphere we celebrate the coming of the light after the darkest days on the earth. All over the globe we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child who is the love of God made incarnate, made alive in humanity. It is the work of all of us to allow that love to live inside us and to allow it to be the spirit that animates our lives.
And this is not magic. It is hard work done day by blessed day.”
Santa wiped his tears away. “Enough,” he said. “Let’s have some hot chocolate and apples. That will cheer us up.”
And so we did. A few hours later, back to his usual jovial self, he was packed and ready to make his night ride.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”


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