Boy, oh boy, did Bishop Edward Braxton ever have a revelation for fifth- and sixth-grade students at Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Belleville, Illinois, last week.
Jonathan Birdsong — superintendent of schools for the Belleville Diocese — told the Belleville News-Democrat that the subjects of Santa Claus and Halloween became part of the discussion between Braxton and the students.
Birdsong said the bishop told the students that children in the past dressed as saints to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, the paper reported, and then Braxton asked “in a passing remark” if they knew who St. Nicholas was and what popular culture says about him.
Bishop Edward Braxton (Image source: YouTube screenshot)
Sure enough, Braxton told the students that St. Nicholas was a Catholic bishop in the Asia Minor who loved children, gave them gifts, and that the “good works of St. Nicholas was gradually changed into the story of Santa Claus,” the News-Democrat said.
“They hop in the car with [younger siblings] and say, ‘Bishop said there’s no Santa Claus,’” parent Boyd Ahlers told the paper. “What’s that do to the kids 5, 6, 7 years old? All the kids are talking about it ... it just waterfalls.”
But that isn't all. Ahlers — who has a fifth-grade son and a sixth-grade girl — told the Chicago Tribune that his son had believed in Santa Claus.
'He doesn't believe now'
“He doesn't believe now,” he noted to the Tribune, adding that "it was something that shouldn't have been said. [Santa Claus] was something that was done for the child, the joy of the child to experience Christmas the spirit of Christmas, and eventually he would have learned.”
Another Queen of Peace parent with a son in the sixth grade and a daughter in kindergarten added to the News-Democrat that his family was “hurt” by the bishop’s talk and are trying to shield their daughter from his remarks.
“My concern is not just about one school; my concern is about the entire diocese," Ray Schott told the paper. "[Braxton] needs to learn to talk to certain levels of children; what he said is unacceptable. We are owed an apology.
“These kids are exposed to so much, so early," he added to the Tribune. "[Santa] is the last pure thing in a child's life. It hurts. He had no right to do any of that."
Schott noted to the Tribune that while Santa Claus "isn't real ... that doesn't mean he isn't in your heart."
What did the diocese have to say?
Birdsong told the News-Democrat that it isn't true that Braxton told "little children" there was no Santa Claus.
“I was personally present in the classroom," he added to the paper, "and I know exactly what the bishop said and the context in which it was said.”
Birdsong also stressed to the News-Democrat that Braxton only spoke to fifth- and sixth-graders "who already knew the true story of St. Nicholas."
This writer's perspective
Exactly why are Catholic kids believing in Santa Claus in the first place? And why are their parents keeping the fable alive?
But it appears to be going beyond that.
Santa "is the last pure thing in a child's life"? Santa "isn't real" but "that doesn't mean he isn't in your heart"?
Seems as though the actual Reason for the Season not only has been getting relegated to the background — but also eclipsed more broadly in a spiritual sense.
Sadly it's seemed for quite a while that Christmas needs a realignment and refocus for more than a few Christians. Good on Bishop Braxton for telling the truth.