Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Believe in Santa Claus

If you've been reading long, you're probably sick of hearing me spout off with anti-consumerism rhetoric. At this time of year, consumerism and commercialization run amok, driving people like me crazy. And while I can't stand the commercialization of Christmas, I do firmly believe in the goodness of Santa Claus and I hope to pass his legacy down to my kids.

The Gift of Santa Claus

I was a firm believer in Santa Claus as a kid. There was nothing anyone said that could shake me. When at last my brother insisted that I "have the Santa Claus talk with Dad," it was the longest treatise on the mythos of Santa that I had ever heard and, in my youth, absolutely void of entertainment. It was void of another startling fact, considering the purpose of the conversation: never once did he say "There is no Santa Claus."

The way I remember it, and the 23 years may have gotten in the way a little, the whole thing boiled down to the fact that there wasn't a fat guy in a red suit who comes down the chimney, but that Santa was very real.

It's a point of view that I still embrace. I think of Santa as a powerful metaphor for kids; he's a way to show the specialness and magic of the holiday season in a way that they can easily understand. Explaining to kids why it is that we search for warmth in the society of each other during those long winter nights and how we set aside this time of year to explore the power of family is kind of hard to do with a two-year-old. But Santa is a specialness that they can easily grasp and willingly understand.

To me, Santa is indeed very holy. He is a symbol of the goodness and generosity within ourselves, an embodiment of that which we hold dear in each other, made digestible for the youngest members of our family and shown without cynicism or illusion.

Ultimately, he is the bow tied around the gift of the season; they will unwrap the present when they are old enough to understand what it is he has been covering within all those years.

The Commercialization of Santa Claus

And because I so firmly believe in the magic of Santa, I can't stand the endless interpretations of him into the cannon of consumerism. Even that which we hold most dear--and maybe especially that which we hold most dear--can be twisted into a sales pitch. No matter what religious traditions you hold (December 25th birthdays: Jesus, Horus, Zarathustra, Vishnu, Sol Invictus, Odin, and countless others), your very beliefs are exploited for store sales. Even your patriotism is slammed if you're not shopping enough. Consumerism is the new religion, after all. And I think that holding Santa up as the patron saint is disgusting.

I can't stand to see images of Santa used to sell things. I think it's plain wrong to show kids visions of Santa shopping in certain stores, drinking certain drinks, riding in certain electric razors, championing certain products, prescribing certain behaviors, and on and on. I think it's thoughtless and lewd to use his image to sell a product to adults or kids.

Of course, it's nothing new. In 1965, Charlie Brown complained about Christmas getting too commercial. And Dr. Seuss based the Grinch off of his own attitudes of Christmas commercialization and his search to resolve those feelings in 1957. He even wrote against the consumer Christmas during his college days in 1925.

Since the second grade, I've heard a million times that Coke invented our modern image of Santa with their ads in the 1930s. But this couldn't be more false. Images of Santa in our western canon have been identical since the end of the 19th Century. The roots of Santa's likeness date back to Odin, and probably he dates much further back. Our modern image has much more to do with the wonderfully image rich poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," more commonly called "Twas the Night Before Christmas," published in 1823.


So no matter what your holiday tradition, feel free to embrace Santa with your family. Focus on his goodness, on his purpose and strength as it speaks to that which we treasure in each other. Don't let the profiteering of a money-driven society tarnish something that is so good and true in its heart. Realize, like the Grinch and Dr. Seuss did, that Christmas doesn't come from a store. Santa embodies much more than purchasing; he represents giving of oneself.

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