Jesus v. Santa











































Dear son,

It occurs to me that as houses light up psychedelically and you begin to see fat men in red costumes everywhere you go, when the size of boxes and bags seems to swell and there is suddenly a tree in the middle of your play space, that it might be incumbent upon me to clear up what is for some children an understandable confusion about Christmas.  It is the birthday of a man named Jesus—or Jesús as mamá would say, if she had much interest in him—and, also, the busiest day of the year for a man named Santa.  I use the term “man” both intentionally and roughly, because one of the things that Jesus and Santa have in common is a lingering controversy as to whether they are—or were—truly men and not merely stories made up for various purposes. But that’s not what I meant to write about now.



Here are some other things that Santa and Jesus have in common: both can magically produce gifts, though from Jesus you are likely only to receive wine—that’s “mama juice”—and fishes (not much like Nemo) and if you’re angling for a Hot Wheels track or remote control helicopter (as I suspect you are), Santa is a better bet.  Both Santa and Jesus can do magic—Jesus, for example, can walk on a lake and Santa can make his wagon fly with the help of deer with bright red noses.  Both Santa and Jesus are kind and caring and have particular interest in making children and sick people happy.  We make offerings of food—that’s “num-nums”—to both Jesus and Santa, though in the case of Jesus it’s mama juice and crackers, and though it’s an offering, we get to eat them ourselves, whereas in the case of Santa it’s cookies and milk and…well, kids don’t get to eat them.  It’s confusing, as are many things about this time of year.



Here are some ways in which Jesus and Santa are different: Santa is fat and Jesus is very skinny, like tía Helena, but even more. Santa’s home is at the North Pole, which is made out of snow and very, very cold all the time but Jesus came from the desert, which is why the pictures of Jesus aren’t very good—they make Jesus look like papa’s friend Sean when he probably had skin more like uncle Onyx’s.  We’ll talk later on about why they do that. Jesus doesn’t like stuff very much and some people say he didn’t even wear shoes; Santa, on the other hand, really is very focused on stuff (especially toys) and spends most of his time commanding a small army of fully grown men about your size to make stuff, which he then gives away (to be clear).  Santa has a wife, who is also fat and kind but Jesus did not have a wife according to most people, though that story may be changing.  No one seems to know who Santa’s papa is, whereas Jesus’ papa is God, which is like the biggest papa of all.


So, what about Christmas Day itself?  Simple: it’s Jesus’ birthday and Santa helps make sure that we celebrate it by flying around in his magic sled and laughing a lot and landing on roofs and jumping down chimneys to eat the milk and cookies that you leave for him and leaving you lots of presents that his little army made in his factory up in the north pole.  He does this because he’s a “saint,” which is like a friend of Jesus except he gets to wear shoes and eat a lot.  Those are the stories anyway. Next year, probably, we’ll start talking about the truth.


Merry Christmas,







  1. As a father myself I wanted to say very simply that I love this and relate to it all too well. As my daughter gets older (but still amazingly believes in the magical spirit of the fat man) I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep the magic alive while preparing (and wanting) to delicately break down the truth of it all. She doesn’t know enough about Jesus yet in my opinion, and she should. Even from the perspective of an agnostic I believe the story of Jesus to be just as powerful as what Christians believe to be the truth. And I also believe that no matter what you believe there’s no doubt that if we could all model ourselves after the son of the great Papa the world would be a much better place. As it relates specifically to my daughter it’s a question of the end of innocence, or if not the end (no need to be so final or stark), a corruption of sorts. How a parent manages the reality of Christmas versus the blind, unquestioned faith in a big jolly fat man who can do all the things you say (AND MORE) is, I suppose, the ultimate challenge.

    Now for some milk and cookies.


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