What Santa's Demise Can Teach Us About Doubt and Wonder

For children, the magic of Christmas Eve isn’t found in certainty about Christmas morning gifts. The magic of Christmas Eve is born in doubt and uncertainty and anticipation and waiting. Because these are the ingredients of mystery and wonder…

THE DEATH OF SANTA

As a child, my family had a tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve in the next town over. The thirty-minute drive home through miles of cornfields late on Christmas Eve was always impregnated with wonder and mystery. I remember looking out the window and seeing the flashing red light of a tower in the distant fields and wondering if maybe, just maybe, that was Rudolph’s red nose busily at work.

I remember I finally stopped believing in Santa Claus around the fourth grade, when I decided the lack of footprints in fireplace ash was damning evidence against the big guy. (Never mind that a magical man who floats around on a sleigh dragged by flying reindeer might have a way of getting past the ash without a trace.)

Yet, I think my sense of Christmas Eve mystery and wonder had actually come to an end several years before, when I started to doubt. Because when I started to doubt, I began to do what we all do when we find ourselves in a place of uncertainty—I began to search for answers.

DOUBT AND THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS

We do this, don’t we?

If we are uncertain or unknowing, we instantly begin to scramble for explanations and reasons. We are desperate to restore equilibrium by knowing. We experience doubt and questions as a threat, something to be remedied and eliminated.

And in this day and age, it is so easy to know. To eliminate doubt and questions, we need only a smart phone and a Google app. Ask an obscure question at a dinner party, and everyone reaches for a phone. And the speed of the reaction is inversely correlated with age. The younger a person is, the more likely they have become accustomed to knowing everything instantly, and the less likely they are to sit in wonder.

Comedian Pete Holmes puts it this way:

What if doubt and unknowing is meant to be, not the beginning of fear and disbelief, but the birthplace of wonder and mystery?

THE BIRTH OF WONDER

We have to nurture our doubt and unknowing. We have to restrain the impulse to seek answers and tidy explanations. We have to wait inside our doubt and uncertainty. Because in the uncertain-waiting place, mystery is touched and wonder is born and people are drawn together as one.

This is why Christmas Eve is a night of magic and wonder and mystery for our children. Not because of certainty about the following morning. But because of the waiting. Waiting in uncertainty. Waiting with anticipation. And in the waiting, the fullness and mystery of the holiday moment is opened up to them.

In The Path of Waiting, Henri Nouwen writes:

“A waiting person is a patient person…patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.”

Could we become like children again this Christmas Eve? Could we step into all of our doubt and uncertainty and, just for an evening, banish our compulsive need for answers and explanations?

Could we simply wait and nurture the moment?

Might we stop and take a deep breath and look up into the night sky and feel small and answerless and let that mysterious smallness be the seed of wonder? Might we cease to debate politics and faith at the holiday dinner table, trading it in for a mutual sense of mystery—a blessed uncertainty that unites us rather than divides us? Might we wonder at the breathtaking complexity of our automatic breath and our unthinking senses and the bottomless hearts of our children and the uncontainable souls of our lovers?

Maybe, if for one magical Christmas Eve, we could quit Googling away the moment and patiently step into all of our unknowing, we would tremble not with fear but with wonder.

And maybe the other gifts of Christmas would absolutely pale in comparison.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.