Elves, Santa, and the True Meaning of Christmas


My family settled into our seats for a live production of the Elf musical in Houston over the weekend.

Someone asked on Twitter recently about favorite Christmas movies. And do you know what I said? Hands down, I chose Elf as my favorite Christmas movie. I love the movie so much that seeing a live production of the Elf musical over the weekend was a highlight of my December.

I’m sure, as a religious professional, that is way the wrong answer. I mean, there is very little (if anything) in Elf about the true meaning of Christmas. It’s all Santa and elves and the whole naughty & nice list.

Now to be sure, lest you think I’ve completely lost my theological framework, I despise the whole naughty & nice list. It goes against every theological touchstone I hold sacred. It also goes against my parenting philosophy–this subject alone could be an entire post, but I’m sick this week and don’t feel up to that one.

I don’t know what it is about Elf the movie. I guess it’s the plucky human raised among elves that gets to me. It’s the classic underdog archetype where this guy who feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere ends up saving the day.

Pluswhich, he wins over the grouchiest people by his genuine zeal for spreading cheer and his unshakeable determination to look for the good in others (except for the fake department store Santa who “sits on a throne of lies,” but that’s just because of his loyalty to the real Santa, and that loyalty is part of his charm as well).

I know that the secularization of Christmas with the proliferation of Santa & elves is a bit removed from the true meaning of Christmas, but I can’t help but be taken in by the magical side of it.

My son knows the truth that the modern concept of Santa is based on legends surrounding a man who lived hundreds of years ago. But we still take him to see Santa and we wonder aloud how exactly Santa accomplishes all that he does.

It is as if I am powerless to dismantle the Santa illusion.

Maybe it’s the power of a good story and the willingness that we have to suspend disbelief when a story is compelling enough.

It’s the same way that we think of Mulder and Scully being real FBI agents even though we know they’re just characters from a TV show. It’s the same way we like to think of hobbits and Middle Earth and argue about the details of whether movie makers are really getting the story right.

Do these “beliefs” in fiction undermine faith in Jesus?

Nah. I don’t think so.

If anything, I think the tenacity of our belief in elves’ good cheer, Santa’s generosity, Mulder & Skully’s heroism, and hobbits’ determination–all of these point to something bigger than ourselves.

And if there is one thing that God in Christ Jesus came to show us, it is that there is more to this life than ourselves.

Am I grasping at straws to justify Elf as my favorite Christmas movie?

It’s possible, because sometimes even I get a little too wrapped up in myself. But it really is a super cute movie.

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For more on what I believe about the true meaning of Christ coming to this world, you can check out my Advent meditation series The Arrival of Christ: Past, Present & Future which is online now at Life & Liberty. Click the series title to see all three meditations in one place. You can listen to the audio recordings (less than 10 minutes each) &/or read the manuscripts of all three meditations online now.

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What about you? What’s your favorite Christmas movie and why?

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Hermano Grande on December 20, 2013 at 9:10 am

    I’m all about A Christmas Story. I love me some Ralphie Red Rider BB gun action.

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