I have a confession to make: I never loved Santa. Don't get me wrong here. I loved to get presents. I certainly appreciated the big guy stopping by with a stash of toys, but I didn't love him.
That's not to say that I had something against him either. I wasn't creeped out by the thought of him omnisciently watching over me. After all, that's what God was doing too. Nor was I scared that he could enter into everyone's houses in the middle of the night without waking anyone up. Nope. My parents didn't have a problem with it, so why should I?
I simply just didn't love Santa. I didn't love Santa, because I didn't have a relationship with Santa. He sneaked in, dropped off the gifts, and covertly left. Our family didn't even leave milk and cookies out for him. I never wrote him letters telling him what I wanted, and I never wrote him letters to thank him for the gifts. He never wrote me letters either. I didn't know how to use a phone to call anyone, but he never called me.
Santa was a stranger; a very generous stranger, mind you, but a stranger none-the-less.
This created a rather strange dynamic. Someone I didn't know stopped by reliably once a year to shower me with gifts in secrecy, without any kind of relationship or return of gratitude. And he did this with all the kids I knew! With that kind of consistency, the endorsement of my parents, and the abundance of evidence, I had to accept that it was normal behavior for his special case.
Oh, it was a very beneficial system, but it was hollow. There was no relationship and no love, so there was no real meaning, aside from knowing that I would get new toys every year.
I don't really remember when I stopped believing in Santa. There was not an eureka moment. I think it was a combination of overhearing conversations, leaked information on TV, and recognizing the handwriting on the gift tags.
It wasn't earth-shattering either. I didn't get angry at my parents for lying to me. In fact, to some extent it made me appreciate my parents even more because I then knew that they were the source of the gifts.
I didn't feel the need to tell my sisters, or anybody, about my discovery. With every parent perpetuating this illusion, and every kid believing in Santa for a time, it seemed to my like a harmless right of passage. There was no point in me spoiling the mystery for others.
You know where this is going, right? ;-)
In my teens, as I began to develop a maturity of mind enough to explore my faith in God, love became a hanging point. Like we find in Matthew 22:37 below, we are called to earnestly and actively love God:
Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’" NIVI didn't make the comparison at the time, but I was having the same issues loving God as I had with loving Santa. I went to church, and always treated the church with a reverent respect. I went to the youth group. I prayed from time to time. It seemed to me as though I was putting forth an effort to be with God and talk with Him, but I never heard back in any discernible manner.
I never felt a relationship, and without a relationship, there can be no true love. At least by my definition of love.
God, and Jesus for that matter, were like Santa, at least to me. God was a stranger, a generous one, given the promise of an eternal blissful afterlife, but a stranger none-the-less. Only this Stranger was demanding love. The only evidence seemed to be that everybody around me believed in God. There was no annual, reliable, tangible gift session to at least stoke the fire of faith. You just had to wait it out. You had to die to get the promised reward. And before that, you had to love.
When I first had these kind of thoughts, about the lack of a real relationship, that wasn't enough for me to doubt my faith in God. My parents didn't have a problem with faith, so why should I? I just thought someday, someday I will hear from God. I just need to be patient. I just need to be patient. It may take longer than a year.