It is official: I now live in a bizarro world. I have not been watching many Christmas movies this year, mostly because I have been trying to keep up with a myriad of things going on right now. As of this writing, we are now a week away from the day we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world (hence the name, just as a reminder), and I thought I should see at least one. I was also looking for something short. Netflix provided the solution. So far, none this would seem out of the ordinary. As a Catholic reviewer, I am always looking for something to tie Faith into a film. Admittedly, sometimes this leads to me grasping at straws. What I did not expect while watching I Believe in Santa is one of the best treatises on believing in God that I have seen in a motion picture. It is just a shame that every bit of it is applied to the ridiculous concept of Santa Claus.
Lisa (Christina Moore) is not somebody likely to utter a phrase like I Believe in Santa. In fact, she has made a living as a writer taking on a holiday that she (rightly) labels as being overly-commercialized and specious. This is not the case for Tom (John Ducey). Yet, we start not with Christmas, but what Lisa thinks is the best day on the calendar: the Fourth of July. Tom is a lawyer, and has a booth at the local Independence Day celebration offering free legal advice. Lisa and Tom are brought together when Ella (Violet McGraw), Lisa’s daughter, becomes separated from her dance troupe and mom. Tom spots her in the crowd and takes her aside, offering to help find her mother. He is smitten at the first sight of Lisa. She, on the other hand, needs a little coaxing from her friend and co-worker Sharon (Lateefah Holder). Lisa eventually acquiesces and all four watch the fireworks together. This is the beginning of a relationship between Lisa and Tom. For most of the year, he is everything she could ask for in a boyfriend. Despite his hectic work schedule, he makes time for Ella and Lisa. They appreciate this greatly because Lisa’s ex-husband, Ella’s dad, is not the most reliable person. It is all going swimmingly until we get to those wonderful few weeks before Christmas. One evening, Lisa and Sharon go to Tom’s place for dinner. What they find inside is enough yuletide decoration to astonish even the most ardent elf. In other words, it is Lisa’s worst nightmare. It is also a side of Tom that she had not previously seen. Still, with a little more convincing from Sharon, and seeing the bond forming between Ella and Tom, Lisa does not immediately call it quits. Besides, she has a Christmas article to write and Tom could be the perfect candidate to study as to why people love this time of year. To this end, she allows Tom to carry her away into his plan to have her experience Christmas through his eyes. For brevity’s sake, think of any clichéd, commercialized, and seasonally appropriate activity, and Tom has it planned for them. Lisa goes along with it until Tom makes the biggest revelation of them all: that he still believes in Santa. This is not simply something he says to Ella to placate her as he does when she talks about kids at school teasing her. He genuinely thinks that Jolly Ol’ St. Nick is up there in the North Pole with the elves making toys, then going around the world in one night delivering them to all the good boys and girls. If you have ever thought of a logical argument against the existence of this legendary person, he has a counter for it. Some of these explanations border on theoretical physics. Given the spirited defense that he puts up, Lisa, while initially shocked, tries to keep going with the relationship. The thing that finally breaks her is not Tom’s socially awkward beliefs, but the relentlessness with which he wants them to pursue every activity having to do with the holiday. I mean, even I could not blame her. To Tom’s astonishment, she breaks up with him. It makes him wonder, momentarily, whether his dedication to the holiday is worth it. This is also hard on Ella, especially when her dad skips town in the middle of her needing help in building a cardboard box sled for an upcoming race. At first, Lisa turns to Sharon, but Ella can see through the thinly veiled reason for why she did not ask for Tom’s help. Seeing little alternative, Lisa turns to Tom’s friend Assan (Sachin Bhatt) for advice about Tom. During the course of their conversation, he gets Lisa to understand better why Tom is the way he is. Thus, once again it is Tom to the rescue. Unsurprisingly, he builds a sleigh modeled after Santa’s. On the appointed day, all three climb in and they manage to be the first sled down the hill. Later, while at the lodge where the event takes place, Tom takes this moment to ask Lisa to marry him. Upon her acceptance, Ella reveals that she had asked Santa for this to happen, and she had not told them about her wish. It is a nice moment, though at the end she also gets the iPhone she had asked for from Santa, despite Lisa telling her that it is out of the question.
These last couple scenes in I Believe in Santa are meant to suggest that Santa Claus is real. You never see the genuine article, other than the nearly life-size animatronic in Tom’s apartment, and the proxy working in the mall to whom Ella gives her wishes. Regardless, look at some of the lines that I jotted down in my notes while watching it: “What if the believers are right and the doubters are wrong?”; it takes faith to believe in the unknowable; “I’d rather be wrong in having faith in something wonderful than being wrong for not having faith in anything”; “Most days I’m surrounded by people who don’t believe the same things I do”; and “Faith may be the last universal concept holding the world together.” As a point of clarification, I had to paraphrase one of those quotes. But, my gosh. If you substitute the word “Santa” with “God” throughout this film, you would have about the best testament to what it means to be a believer in God. And these are ideas with which I can identify. Most days, I am, indeed, surrounded by people who do not believe the same things I do. It would be extremely lonely if I did not have a friend in Jesus. As of late, He has been my closest companion. The worry, though, with a film like this one and viewing it through the lens of Faith is that it makes God into a magical wish granter. This is a concept with which many Christians have struggled, and failed, throughout the years. Santa gives us what we want because (sorry) he is not real. When we are children, it is our parents fulfilling that role, but neither are they God. Heck, even I dressed as Santa once. God does not necessarily give us what we want, but rather what we need, and in a way that truly stretches the limits of comprehension at times. In this light, this is why Ella getting an iPhone at the end is slightly offensive. Could God do this? Of course. Will He? If he does, it would more likely be for a purpose greater than fulfilling a simple material wish.
As alluded to in the previous paragraph, if you watch I Believe in Santa and substitute “Santa” with God, you have the makings of a pretty deep movie. Otherwise, it is full of the mostly unobjectionable material you might find in any of these holiday films. There are some other oddities in it, but you can decipher them for yourselves.