Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is unparalleled to any other Christmas event. The park is trimmed with Christmas lights, heart-warming tales are brought to life in great musical productions and the smell of warm cinnamon bread wafts through the cool mountain air. These are just a few of the highlights. Along with all these things celebrating the season, Dolly Parton, and Dollywood, have even had the ability to change my view of Santa Claus.
It was a few Christmas seasons ago that I decided to check out Dollywood and see what it is all about. I was impressed: mesmerized by the sights and sounds, I was thrilled that such a place was a mere weekend trip away from my home in Kentucky.
Dolly and Kenny’s I Believe in Santa Claus
Unsure of where to begin, I raced around the park in excitement—taking in all I could. I eventually boarded the Dollywood Express, a real steam locomotive, chugging around the park. As it climbed up the foothills of the Smokies, a song piped into the train, “I Believe in Santa Clause,” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. I was relatively new to Dolly Parton and hadn’t heard this song before. It’s from Dolly and Kenny’s 1984 Christmas album “Once Upon a Christmas,” give it a listen!
Among the amazing string of lyrics are some rather positive outlooks, including:
“I believe when someone hurts us we should forgive and forget”
“I believe in family, in country and in smiles”
“I believe in saying what you mean and meaning what you say”
“I believe a better attitude can make a better way”
“I believe love should prevail at any cost”
“I believe I am, so therefore I should do all that I can
To be a better piece in the puzzle of God’s plan.”
Along with all these statements, “And I believe in Santa Claus,” repeats in the chorus. I was attentive to the song. It was catchy and festive, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the lyrics. Are they simply sugar-coated and frosted feel-good words for the holidays, or do they have more meaning? And if they hold meaning, how exactly does Santa Claus equate to love prevailing and forgiving and forgetting? The Santa Claus we know from popular culture gives gifts to children on Christmas and has a naughty and nice list, but Dolly’s song associates him with much more. As a Christian, I honor the fun and cultural tradition of Santa Claus, but I don’t oversaturate my Christmas with this character; to me, Christmas has a much deeper meaning in Christ’s birth. Is there a way to reconcile Santa Claus with my religious belief of Christmas?
It’s true: Santa Claus is a historic figure. Only, his story and attributes have been fictionalized greatly over time. What we do know is that the original Saint Nicholas, from whom we have derived the modern Santa Claus, was a third century Christian bishop in Asia Minor known for his good will and secret gift-giving, but think about who he has become today. Who is Santa Claus to you?
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
Dollywood features a stage production every Christmas season called “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It’s largely about Santa Claus, not the historic saint, but the jolly man of today. The mother in the show says, “Santa Claus is generosity personified.” She sings, “You find him anywhere you find unselfish love,” and “If there is kindness in this world, there is a Santa Claus.” This is when the Christmas light came on in my mind.
Believing in Santa Claus, as Dolly has put in her songs, is not simply believing in the magical man in the red suit. It is believing in a spirit of kindness, of giving and goodness. Dolly expounded further on this concept by explaining her song, “I Believe in Santa Claus,” in the audiobook version of “Songteller: My Life in Lyrics.” The man we know as Santa Claus is the personification of those good things Dolly sings about. Santa Claus is all the good will of Christmas wrapped up and materialized as a person—from God reaching down with the greatest gift of all in a manger, to the hope and love that it displays.
Santa also personifies the excitement in our hearts this time of year, the joy in our celebrations and the love and generosity which has been shown to us, and in turn, we extend to others. Santa Claus is the spirit of all of this. He’s all of it wrapped up in a character, or at least that’s what Dolly and Dollywood have convinced me.
Be More Santa Claus
It’s easy in the gloom of winter to become pessimistic and let coldness creep into our hearts, but pause: do you see Santa Claus? Look for him in the acts of kindness this season. You’ll find him in the selfless acts of love, in kindness between strangers and the care of a neighbor. Be encouraged as you seek out the good around you this Christmas, but also be reminded not to just look for and recognize the good things around you but remember to encompass that spirit in your own life. The Christmas season is a great time to bring generosity and kindness to the forefront and bring light to others in the dark of winter. It could be time for us all to be just a little more Santa Claus.