It's the big question every parent confronts, sooner or later: Does Santa Claus really exist?
As a father, a lawyer, and the president of a Christian ministry, I can confidently tell you the answer: Yes! There really is a Santa Claus. But he does not live at the North Pole. He lives in South Carolina.
His name is Ed Butchart. He is an ordained minister, and he runs a ministry called Friends of Disabled Adults and Children. In that capacity, he repairs wheelchairs for people in need.
But for 20 years, Butchart, who has a white beard and a little round belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowlful of jelly, has another ministry-one that involves putting on a bright red suit.
A lot of people think Santa Claus is about helping shopping malls make more money. But Santa-I mean, Butchart-has his own ideas about his role. Santa, he says, should be "an embodiment of the unconditional love Christ has shown."
As Butchart notes in his book, The Red Suit Diaries, the legend of Saint Nick was rooted in Bishop Nicholas of Myra. Nicholas was known for secretly giving gifts to children as a way of emulating the gifts the magi gave to the Christ Child. But as time went on, the legend of St. Nick became commercialized and used in Christmas advertising.
"Stripped of his Christian origins," Butchart writes, Santa became a strictly pagan figure-one who interfered with the true meaning of Christmas. Butchart wondered: Could he somehow steer attention back to the true story about St. Nicholas?
For the answer, ask some of the thousands of children he has held in his lap over the years-children whose wheelchairs he has repaired for free. Or ask the parents to whom Santa quietly gave money so their kids could have a Christmas tree.
Or you could ask Annette Cone, a young woman who attends Butchart's church. Annette, who has Down syndrome, came up to Butchart one year just before Christmas and gave him a piece of paper. "Here is my Christmas list, Santa," she said. On her face was a look of complete faith and trust. Several families in the church offered to help buy the gifts, and two days before Christmas, Butchart and his wife took them to Annette's house. She opened the door and said, quite matter-of-factly, "Mama, it's Santa Claus. I told you it would be him."
Butchart was thunderstruck by her simple faith. "What if believers could have that same trust and confidence in the promises of Christ?" he notes. "What if everyone just knew that what [Christ] said was true and that he could be trusted?"
It was then that Butchart began to believe that "sharing God's love with kids could be a calling for a man who looked like Santa Claus and who had a lot of love to share, [just] like Bishop Nicholas so long ago."
So, is there really a Santa Claus? Yes-St. Nicholas was a real person who loved children. And so is anyone else who loves children and witnesses to them of Christ's love for others.
That is why, in my book, Ed Butchart really is a Santa Claus. What a blessing he has been to thousands of children-and what an example for the rest of us. He shows us how to honor Christ whose birthday we celebrate today.