the work of christmas

the work of christmas

The tension of the future is unbearable in us.
It must break through narrow cracks, it must force new ways.
— Carl Jung

This past weekend, I was pondering what I might write about this week. I knew that I was on the schedule and I always prefer to marinate. To let thoughts sit and shift, to rest and return. To allow time and space to see what surfaces and sticks.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas. And Santa. And both of these things in the context of our 2023 United States of America. I meandered loosely on thoughts of God (and then Jesus) as Santa for adults, with heaven marketed as the ultimate gift. Then, over Thanksgiving, while visiting my mom and her partner Fred, Fred made a comment that Santa is Satan and it sent my mind sailing over in that direction. Santa as Satan. Deals, gifts, online shopping, toys… money as the measure of the magic of Christmas. I can see it.

Thoughts on Christmas and Santa have also bled into family life. As many of you know, I have identical twins, Shepherd and Griffin, who are in 3rd grade. Griffin has, unless my memory is poor, always been skeptical of Santa. He oscillated between curious and wary for a few years, and last year we ended up talking about the Santa-not-being-real thing. Overall, Griffin seemed at ease with the truth and floored me when he said something to the effect of ‘so people made up Santa so they could make winter feel special for children?’ 

Shepherd, on the other hand, has been a more loyal Santa believer. He’s shown signs that he’s curious and has further questions, but that’s really been the extent of his skepticism. This year, after mulling it over for a few weeks, I decided I was going to tell him about Santa. I imagined a kid at school delivering the news in an unsavory way, wondering if Shepherd would feel betrayed and lied to, or need emotional support that he wouldn’t get. I felt responsible for his emotional experience of this news, and I wanted to be there for it.

Upon delivery of the news, Shepherd, no surprise, had mixed feelings. One of those feelings was anger… anger connected to me. He didn’t get loud or visibly heated, but he needed space, and he let me know in obvious, angsty ways. By sometime in the afternoon we had struck a balance between space and connection in a meaningful way so that things were smooth. Shepherd wanted hugs — the tried and true indicator that we’re okay. I’m sure we’ll be talking about it all more.

A final Christmas musing for you. At Cedar Lane UU Congregation, where I worked for many years, we included the following poem in the Christmas Eve order of service every year. It’s been over a decade now that I read and think of this poem affectionately during the holiday season. It’s been with me since before I became a parent, before I realized I was queer, before the pandemic. The meaning and charge in these words deepens for me each year, and so I share it with you to stir your spirits: 

The Work of Christmas
by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

The work of Christmas awaits us, beloveds.

With love,


  1. Becky Reese

    I am surprised that Griffin did not share the news with Shepherd over the last year. That’s some brotherly loyalty!
    My sister figured out the truth about Santa and told me by the time I was 4. We colluded to make our parents think we were true believers for MANY years. I don’t recall the specifics, but I think we even acted surprised when they finally told us. Ho ho ho!

  2. John Guy

    Good Afternoon Miss Sara – I am impressed with your Unitarian devotion to the works of Howard Thurman . Good for you . My Unitarian roots started in 1968 with Rev David Eaton the first black minister at All Souls Church ,Unitarian in DC. He quoted Thurman more than any other source . Such sweet memories . Thank you . Regards John Guy

  3. Suzi Gerb

    As a non-Christian, I confess to being baffled by the whole telling kids Santa Claus is real thing, but it sounds like you handled things in a very principled way.

  4. Gail Thompson

    As my two children separately declared that presents came from their mother and father, we welcomed them to become Santa for others. They seemed pleased with that idea. If there was angst, I never heard it. They took to the new job with gusto.
    The poem is wonderful. It gives me a solid feeling about being Santa and the work of the world that describes.

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