Yesterday, thanks to the creativity of well-meaning grandparents, my daughter received a letter from S. Claus. My daughter, who will turn two in a few weeks, doesn’t know the difference. She liked the picture of “Ho Ho” and she liked getting mail.

Has she been good this year? She’s almost two. How can she be bad?

Will Mommy and Daddy leave cookies and milk for him and carrots for the reindeer at the Christmas Trip Destination? Um, no. The cookies will be immediately consumed by well-meaning canines and the carrots…do reindeer REALLY like carrots?

Aside from the ridiculous nature of this letter, which is on beautiful paper and in a font I have to concede is perfect, I have to hand it to those well-meaning grandparents. They did this with taste.

That hasn’t always been the case with S. Claus and that set of adults. One year, my husband’s first, we went back to their home to celebrate Christmas. The heaps of presents that Santa brought the two youngsters in the house was…embarrassing.

But I’ve been thinking a lot in the last two years about Santa as a metaphor, about just what we’re out to accomplish with Santa. The actual St. Nicholas was not much like our current rendition of Santa, and that’s something to study and cherish as part of our Catholic heritage.

Just what is Santa for, though? How can so many good people be out to buy into this? The answer came to me, through some very wise Catholics in my life, as a sort of gut feeling. I remember looking up into the sky, littered with diamond stars, feeling the cold in my toes and my elbows, and seeing a glint of red. “That’s Rudolph!” Aunt C exclaimed, with all the wonder and excitement of a child. Later, she would sing me to sleep with various Christmas carols and songs, and her voice would echo in my head for years. When I wonder if there’s a Santa, I hear Aunt C’s voice, reading the nativity story from the Gospels and singing with all the passion of someone who still believes.

It’s on everyone’s minds this time of year. What to do about Santa? We have bigger fish to fry – world hunger, poverty, abortion – and here we are, debating about a guy in a red suit. And that’s as it should be. If we don’t see Santa as a metaphor for the joy that Advent yields to us in the manger, as a lesson in anonymous giving as a sign of love, as an example of unconditional love (I’m not so much into the “have you been good this year?” tack), then maybe we don’t need Santa.

But on Christmas Eve, after we go to Mass and once we’re settled into the House with a View (courtesy of our Christmas Trip), I plan to watch the night sky for the hint of red. You never know – Santa may be flying over!