The Pops, Jesus, and Santa

Singing with the Boston Pops has been a mixed blessing this season. I’ve had to confront my lack of holiday spirit head on, but I’ve also been given plenty of exposure to the lighter side of the season–the side that is about excited children and Santa and cheery singalongs.

It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile all of the facets of Christmas. Yes, Christmas is traditionally among the most depressing times of the year; yes, it’s a solemn religious holiday that observes the birth of Jesus, the arrival of a baby who would die on the cross as a replacement sacrifice for our sins and be raised from the dead in the promise of our ultimate redemption. But it is also, and perhaps equally fundamentally, a season of hope and love. The knowledge of Christ’s ultimate destiny deepens that sense of hope and makes it more poignant, rather than diminishing it.

As for Santa Claus: Tony Pierce has had some very pointed things to say on the subject of the Big Guy with the Beard over the years. Certainly the focus on Santa to the exclusion of Christ is a mistake. But I think it’s also a mistake to exclude Santa, who provides a focus for the secular parts of the holiday in a context of love and acceptance. Yes, there is some greed that creeps in around the edges. But if you could stand on the stage at Symphony Hall in Boston and see the look on the kids’ faces when Santa Claus enters the hall, you’d see no greed. You’d see excitement, and joy. And happiness. And I’d rather see that by having a Santa–a proxy for hope and love–come into the hall than some actor dressed as Christ, or worse as Mary carrying a babydoll. If we must risk cheapening something with pageantry, let us cheapen the Victorian image of Santa rather than the cosmic mystery of the Redeemer.