Christmas shopping with a four-year-old is always an adventure - and mine just happens to be a realist who is smarter than me. Last week he taught me a precious lesson I will never forget.

We were going store to store as we passed a holiday Santa. That started the questioning. "How does he get all the presents into his sleigh? Why does he wear a red hat? How come some kids don't get any presents? Where does he keep the reindeer?"

Finally, while driving in the car, the back seat went quiet. I turned up the Christmas music and forgot all about our Santa talk.

Soon a noise came from my little shopping partner. He said with a pensive voice, "Mom, is he really just Jesus dressed up?" I turned down the music to try to collect my thoughts. He continued, "You say for Christmas we celebrate Jesus. So who is Santa anyways? He gives us gifts, and he knows everything; so why don't we just call him Jesus? He wouldn't have to wear the red hat, or pretend to be someone else. I know it is Him in there."

That thought made me smile. We got out of the car and again got lost in the busy holiday shuffle. Soon he was asking to buy a toy. I said, "We don't need to buy that now; why don't you put it on your Santa list?"

Almost laughing he replied, "Mom, I think it's cute you think I still believe in Santa."

A part of me wanted to fight for Santa's cause.He is too young to not believe. The other part of me felt relieved I didn't have to keep pretending. For the rest of the week, I went back and forth on ideas to get my son to believe in a fictitious character I felt he had to believe in.

During church on Sunday he began again asking questions about Christmas. I thought this might be my chance to pick a side and fight for the cause to get my son to believe. His questions were not the same as the first time around.

He asked, "Did Jesus really live on earth?" I answered, "Yes.""Then he said, "Was he really born in a manger?" I almost teared up thinking about our conversation about Santa just days before, hoping this one wouldn't end the same way. I replied, "He really was.""¨He began again, "Did he really live and die for us?" I answered, "Yes.""¨His final question came out with tenderness in his voice. He asked, "Was he really kind to everybody - everywhere?" My throat burned as I blurted out, "Yes, Tytus ... He loves us all." He looked deep into my eyes and boldly proclaimed, "Well I love Him - and I want to be just like Him."

My son has seen Santa every year for the last four years - but he doesn't believe he is real. But he has faith in a little baby that was born thousands of years ago; a baby he has never seen.

Seeing isn't believing. Believing is knowing with all our hearts that everything we can't see is really there. It is a burning in our souls that we know, without a doubt, what we believe is true. It is knowing that we will be sent the gifts we need to make it through.

Santa might bring the packages with bows this Christmas, but the true gifts won't come wrapped under our trees.

Who is Santa anyway? A symbol of Christ - a bearer of gifts who knows everything. He knows our needs - every one of us.

As we look around this holiday season, we will see others with needs greater than our own. As we play Santa and lift others' burdens physically, we will also get to feel a little of what Christ feels when He lifts our burdens spiritually.

Maybe Santa is just a guy in a red hat - or maybe he is a symbol of so much more. Whatever we believe in, hopefully it will be in something greater than that which we can see.

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