7 Reasons Why Santa Is Probably a Unitarian Universalist
It’s just a few weeks until Christmas, y’all. As a Unitarian Universalist preparing to go to seminary and a mother to a preschooler, I think about religion and Santa Claus a lot these days. Henry’s been asking a lot of questions about Santa. I try my best to answer them, but I don’t always know how to walk the line between explaining the importance of the things Santa represents – kindness, charity, selflessness – and reconciling them with what Christmas has largely become – a consumer holiday full of stress. I pulled this line out of thin air the other day while talking with Henry and I haven’t been able to shake it:
“Santa lives in the North Pole and he takes presents to all the children. He doesn’t care if you live in America or Mexico or England or India – he loves everyone. Santa is definitely a Unitarian Universalist.”
I’ve since changed my position from definitely to probably because I’m not Santa and I cannot speak to how he identifies or where he is on his spiritual journey. However, I have compiled a list of 7 Reasons Why Santa is Probably a Unitarian Universalist.
1. When the other reindeer mocked and excluded Rudolph for being different, Santa helped Rudolph find his place in the community in a way that celebrated diversity. UUs believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings – including reindeer.
2. Santa does not discriminate. He delivers gifts to people all over the world, no matter their age, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, immigration status, socioeconomic status, religion, or ability, demonstrating justice, equity and compassion in human relations – and gift-giving.
3. Santa hasn’t always been the large, jolly man in the red suit. (This version of Santa is largely thanks to the Coca Cola company.) He started as St. Nicholas, a first-century Turkish monk with a reputation of being charitable. St. Nicholas was born wealthy, but reportedly gave away all his wealth and chose to live a life of service. (The St. Nicholas story is similar to the Buddha story in many ways.) Over centuries, Santa has evolved into how we see him today. Likewise, Unitarian Universalism is a living tradition, meaning that we recognize that our journeys are ongoing, our needs are evolving, and we must be adaptable in order to be effective.
4. Santa’s list objectively reflects whether a person has been naughty or nice throughout the year. We are free to be naughty or nice, though not without consequences. The consequences, however, are not harsh or excessively punitive. Didn’t make the nice list this year? Here’s some coal – we’ll try again next year. And then, we get a blank slate. I’ve never heard of Santa taking one’s previous naughty list status into consideration for the next year.
UUs believe in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. As a part of that search, people sometimes make mistakes that may land them on the naughty list, but while they are responsible for their actions, those mistakes do not define them or undermine their inherent worth and dignity. A popular hymn in UU churches is Come, Come, Whoever You Are – an adaptation of a poem by Rumi.
“Come, come whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again, come
Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again, come
It’s ok to stumble. It’s ok to fall. It’s ok to try again. We are all loved all the same.
5. While Santa has long been depicted as a large white man, that is changing. As attitudes about diversity and representation shift, so does Santa. Videos of Santa using American Sign Language to communicate with deaf children have been circulating for a couple years, and major retailer Target is featuring wrapping paper depicting multicultural Santas this year. In 2017, author Daniel Kibblesmith published a book depicting Santa as black and gay. Santa is becoming less of a steadfast archetype and more of an adaptable symbol of the holidays. Santa can change to suit an individual’s needs while simultaneously promoting the meaning of the holidays – kindness, unity, and love. Understanding that while we may look, communicate, or worship differently, we are also very alike in what makes us human, and each of us plays a vital role is a big deal to UUs. We like to call it the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
6. Santa loves children. He devotes his entire life to them and seems to do so gladly. UU churches are much the same. Children are not merely tolerated in UU congregations – they are celebrated. I was mortified when my child once tried to blow out the chalice during a service at our home church (and also when they did it again during my supervisor’s ordination at the church I serve), but no one batted an eye, because children are welcome not only as human beings with inherent worth and dignity and a lot of wonderful, curious energy, but as the future leaders of the universe.
7. Santa is what you make of him, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. All interpretations and depictions of Santa are equally valid because ultimately no one has ever seen him, no one has any definitive answers, your guess is as good as mine, and we do not all have to believe exactly the same thing to celebrate together. (Now go back to the beginning of that last sentence, replace Santa with God or Spirituality and you’ll have a pretty solid understanding of what UUs believe.)
Bonus: Santa probably drinks a ton of coffee to stay awake delivering presents. UUs love coffee – coffee hour is basically our only sacrament.