Chances are you’ll recognize at least one of Greg Olsen’s paintings. You may even have a few prints of his work hanging in your house. This week on the All In podcast, Greg talked about why he often pairs Santa Claus and the Savior together in Christmas paintings, and how a child’s belief in Kris Kringle can be similar to an adult’s faith in Jesus Christ.
Santa and the Savior
In a painting titled “The Spirit of Christmas,” Santa Claus is depicted gently holding a ceramic figure of the baby Jesus in the manger. Talking about this piece, Greg said that he wanted to show how Santa and Jesus aren’t enemies—something that Christmas advertising seems to suggest—nor is Santa a villain who has turned a holy day into a completely commercialized celebration. Rather, the two both carry out the same mission in different ways. “There’s a lot of good in what Santa symbolizes,” Greg says.
Greg described a Christmas art show years ago where he and Santa would co-sign prints of his art. “Families would come up and little kids would run up to Santa and hug him and say, ‘Santa, I love you!’ It was this gush of love and admiration for Santa.” The pure love these children had for Santa mirrored the love that Greg has seen people show to Jesus Christ.
“[That experience] made me more convinced that, done in the right way, seen from the right perspective, the tradition of Santa does carry on the mission of Jesus: doing unto others, giving, serving, spreading love and cheer, all that kind of stuff,” Greg says.
When You Stop Believing in Santa
Greg experienced a moment of tension when his young daughter discovered that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real. Her newfound knowledge spiraled into recognizing that the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus must be fictional as well, and later led to her questioning if even Jesus and Heavenly Father were real. While he watched with sadness as his daughter’s childhood innocence disappeared, it also helped him talk with her about faith.
“I believe that Jesus and Heavenly Father are real,” Greg began, “But it’s still an issue where we believe those things because of our faith. You can argue that we don’t have any more concrete evidence for a statement saying that Heavenly Father and Jesus are real than we do for the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. How do we believe when bad things happen to good people? How do we believe when our prayers don’t get answered? How do we believe when we don’t see always the kind of physical evidence that would be convincing to us? Life is about some of those question marks, navigating through the uncertainty, and realizing that it’s about living by faith.”
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Greg also highlighted the benefits of situations that require us to have faith. “I think it’s all right to live with some uncertainty, and some mysteries, and some things where we just move forward the best we can without having concrete answers. We follow what is good, what is uplifting, what’s virtuous. Those are hard questions, and there aren’t always easy answers, but it’s okay to work through them together.”
In Greg’s opinion, if believing in Santa Claus can help us learn about having faith in good things that we can’t see and learn about living like the Savior did, then surely Santa is a part of Christmas worth celebrating.