Holy ghost in my past: How I blew my chance to explore the faith of the 'real' Santa Claus

Our own Terry Mattingly is no fan of the commercialized, mall-defined Santa Claus.

In a GetReligion post last year, tmatt asked:

Why pass on the beloved lie that is Santa Claus?

I don't disagree often with our editor (who is devoted to the St. Nicholas of the ancient church), but personally, I love the jolly ole elf with the red suit and white beard.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason is that I grew up in a Church of Christ household where we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday, but not a religious one. (For more details on that, check out this 2005 piece I wrote for The Christian Chronicle.)

Last week in the Dallas Morning News, I read a feature on a black Santa who has made headlines this Christmas season:

Like me, the Morning News writer obviously believes in Santa. Her lede makes that obvious:

Although his job takes him to the North Pole and other faraway places, this Santa — the first black St. Nick at the Mall of America — would prefer to work closer to home. 
Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran, returned to Irving on Monday after spending four days greeting children and handing out candy canes at Minnesota's Mall of America.
While he said his time in Minnesota was amazing, Jefferson would prefer to keep his workshop in Dallas Fort-Worth, and hopes to one day open a winter wonderland storefront.
In the meantime, he has gigs lined up at the Uber office in Dallas (he's also an Uber driver), the S.M. Wright Foundation's Christmas in the Park at Fair Park, and this weekend at the Irving Wal-Mart.
Jefferson was chosen for the historic Mall of America job after Landon Luther, the co-owner of the Santa Experiencephoto studio in the mall, sent his elves out in search for a more diverse Santa, the Star-Tribune reported.

The potential -- and unexplored -- religion angle comes later in the Dallas story:

"It's just been incredible. I can't believe people people were driving and flying from a far distance to come see me and get their picture taken," he said. "I'm humbled and I'm amazed and I just thank God for the opportunity to share joy and happiness and holiday cheer with everybody."

Hold the presses: Santa just mentioned God! 

I want to know more about the faith of Kris Kringle. But the Morning News lets the opportunity disappear through the chimney. There are no follow-up questions about St. Nick's religious beliefs (or the sacred history of St. Nicholas, either).

Holy ghosts, anyone? But on this subject, I'm not one to talk.

The Dallas story got me to thinking about a Santa interview I did myself -- almost two decades ago -- for The Oklahoman:

In the most merry moment of my newspaper career, a world-renowned senior citizen gave me an exclusive interview for Christmas. But first I had to sit on his knee.
I found the man who claims to be “the real Santa Claus” making children smile at Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City.
Santa sported long white hair, a fluffy white beard and wire-rimmed glasses. The hair and the beard were real. I’m not sure about the glasses.
To my surprise, Santa had no red coat, no thick black belt and no knee-high boots.
Instead, the casual St. Nick wore red knickers, black slippers, red, white and green striped socks and a colorful shirt covered with holiday bears.
Red suspenders hung over a belly made plump by a few million too many chocolate chip cookies.

I asked Santa whether the constant barrage of children made his knee hurt, if he got to go home to the North Pole at night and what his other reindeer thought about all the attention given Rudolph's red nose.

But when presented with a perfect opportunity to ask about Santa's faith, the 1997 me -- much to the chagrin of the 2016 me -- failed to deliver:

BR: What would you be or who would you be if you weren’t Santa?
SANTA: You know, I can’t imagine because it’s such a blessing to be Santa. I have no desire to be anybody else.

That single word -- "blessing" --  could have led to a follow-up question about religion. But I was young and untrained on the Godbeat. I didn't know any better. 

For that holy ghost in my past, I probably deserve coal in my Christmas stocking.

One more thing: The whole Santa and religion thing keeps making news. If you see stories on this topic, please let us know. Gift us with some URLs in the comments pages. Please?

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