Free Enterprise Santa

December 23, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More

Driving home from work today I did a bit of social psychology inside of my car by scanning the offerings of AM radio (I’ve been doing that a lot lately).  Today, the most prominent AM radio station in St. Louis featured an opportunity to talk to Santa Claus.   Santa took precious moments out from his busy schedule to talk to dozens of St. Louis children who were allowed to call the station and discuss upcoming matters of great importance with Mr. Claus. The typical conversation went something like this:

Santa: what your name? [I kept thinking, “Here’s a man who claims to be virtually omniscient in that he knows who’s been bad or good, but he doesn’t know who he’s talking to.”]

Ashley: Ashley

Santa: How old are you, Ashley?

Image by Pressmaster at Dreamstime.com (with permission)

Ashley: I am six.

Santa: What would you like for Christmas, Ashley?

Ashley: I would like an iPod, and a Nintendo Wii and lots of other toys [Most of the children asked for toys that added up to many hundreds of dollars].

Santa: Ho, Ho, Ho!  Thanks for talking!  [Santa knew enough avoid saying anything that would cause big disappointments on Christmas morning]

As you might guess, there was a conspiracy of misinformation going on. The parents and the radio station personalities worked hard to tell the children that Santa Claus actually existed, and they convinced the kids that asking a stranger to bring them valuable things was somehow appropriate.  And why wouldn’t he be?  He gives you stuff, no strings attached.

Even though it is obvious, it needs to be said that Santa Claus is far more popular than Jesus Christ, at least among children.  If someone arranged a poll to vote for your favorite personality by secret ballot and the only two options offered were Jesus and Santa, Jesus would be lucky to come away with 10% of the vote.  Think goodness the kids aren’t asked to line up to chat with Jesus Christ at Christmas time. Can you imagine what Jesus would say if a child asked Him for $2,000 worth of high-tech expensive gadgets?  Though I don’t actually believe in the existence of the biblical Jesus, if that version of Jesus did exist, He would make no bones about telling each child “No, you will not to get any of that expensive stuff.  In fact, I ask you to immediately give away the toys you already have to poor children this Christmas; if you don’t, you’ll burn in hell forever.”  If children were asked to choose between Santa and Jesus, it would be a sad day for American conservatives because despite the rhetoric, most children are clearly convinced that it is much more fun to receive than to give.  That is undeniably American way.  Lip service for the poor, and lots of expensive stuff for me.  If you don’t believe me, go watch TV.  Count the number of times your hear the name Santa and the times you hear them discuss Jesus.    BTW, last year, I spied this rare scene on a front lawn.

I never pushed the Santa belief on my own kids. They are now 10 and 12, and therefore beyond any possibility of believing that an old elf brings toys to all the good kids of the world.  If I told them that story today, they would probably demand to know why Santa brings valuable toys to some children of the world yet lets millions of other children starve to death.

When my kids were younger, other people surrounded them and suggested there was a Santa, the typical watered-down version of Santa.   When others spoke to my children this way, I stayed away and kept quiet–I didn’t want to be part of this. Whenever my kids nonetheless looked at me for guidance and tried to get clear about Santa claims, I would usually wink and nod and say something like “That’s what some people say. Some people say there is a Santa Claus [wink, wink].”

I know that many people will think that I am a wretched person for not enthusiastically pushing a belief in Santa Claus; they will resent my aclausist ways .  They might dislike it even more to the extent that I argue that the story of Santa was one of disguised eschatology.   That’s their right, of course.

I don’t take these positions merely because I want to be obstructionist, or a skeptic or an iconoclast. In my mind, pushing young children to say things that aren’t true is the first step on a slippery slope whereby we later expect them to regularly say things that aren’t true in order to get a social reward that is often coupled with a significant material benefit.   I have always been uneasy with the idea of encouraging beliefs in supernatural beings because this constitutes a breach of trust. When my kids were young, (and still today), they almost always know when I’m joking and they know when I’m not joking around.  They’ve always known that when I spoke of Santa Claus I was joking around and I was having fun with them.  I want them to know that I will always shoot straight, even when it is not socially convenient.

Christmas is a extraordinarily rich time for doing armchair anthropology and sociology.  And Santa is only one of the many portals through which one can analyze the complex and intricate interrelationships among people.  Another fruitful path of study focuses on the “Grinch who stole Christmas.”  Based upon the interpretation given to the story by most Americans, the Grinch turned out to be a hero.  As I interpret the story, however, the Grinch became more darkly evil at the end of the show than ever before.

No, I’m not going to sit around smashing icons this entire Christmas season. Rather, I will be doing what most Americans do. I will spend time with people I love. We will share meals and anecdotes. Hopefully the gifts will be minimal, because none of us really needs them, and for most Americans giving gifts serve mostly as opportunities for crudely crafted social displays (but there are also gifts that tell good stories).  There will inevitably be some merriment and frivolity.  I hope there is a lot of that, but also healthy doses of thoughtfulness and seriousness pondering of the human condition too.

Perhaps some people think that approaching Christmas without actively promoting the myth of Santa Claus would be blasphemous and that my way of celebrating Christmas turns it into a day not too much different than most other days.  My point, however, is that all other days are incredibly special opportunities for furthering our social connections and for considering a multitude of ways in which we can really better our communities and our world.  Christmas should be no exception.

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Category: children, Entertainment, Propaganda, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Ebonmuse says:

    This is something I'm still struggling with, trying to decide what I'll teach my children if and when we choose to have them.

    I still haven't made up my mind, but I thought Dale McGowan had an interesting counterpoint: telling your kids about Santa, and letting them figure out the truth for themselves, is a valuable lesson that teaches them the importance of skepticism and of not unconditionally trusting any authority figure (even their own parents!).

  2. Although I agree with you most of the time Erich, I think you go too far by being an aclausist.

    Although a hardened religious skeptic myself, I look back with fondness on the period of time when I believed in Santa Claus. I remember it clearly. It was magical and I wouldn't trade that time for all the truth in the world. I do not feel that I was "tricked" in the same way that I resent the religious myths that were pounded into me by my Catholic upbringing at that same time.

    Both I and my daughter (she's 20 now) passed through the trauma of learning the truth about Santa and are none the worse for it. We now watch with warm amusement as her young cousins' eyes widen at the mention of the bearded one.

    The Santa myth is not like religion and it is a mistake to equate the two. Santa is like a toy for children, painlessly outgrown at a certain age. I recall telling my daughter the truth and adding that now SHE was Santa for the younger kids. She took to it eagerly and understood that I was welcoming her into the world of adults. It was a rite of passage for her and she was delighted that she could now pass on the magic to the young ones.

    So basically what I am saying is…lighten up a little! Kids are far stronger and far more resilient than we give them credit for sometimes. I think your daughters could handle a little magic. The innocence of youth passes by so quickly these days. There's plenty of time for skepticism later.

  3. Jim Razinha says:

    Well put, Mike!

    The Santa myth is not like religion and it is a mistake to equate the two. Santa is like a toy for children, painlessly outgrown at a certain age. I recall telling my daughter the truth and adding that now SHE was Santa for the younger kids. She took to it eagerly and understood that I was welcoming her into the world of adults. It was a rite of passage for her and she was delighted that she could now pass on the magic to the young ones.

    I like the "toy" connection. We (mostly Mom because she understands the psychology involved) had long discussions with our youngest two during the PTS phase of having just learned that their parents "lied" to them. Explaining that Santa is just an idea (who only during high stress was brought in to be "watching") that evoked good feelings helped. Our approach was that if they were old enough to ask questions (about nearly anything) they were old enough to deserve age appropriate answers. If they didn't want the "magic" to end, then we didn't hurry it.

    But Santa is fun and religion is not, so as Mike says, it's a mistake to equate the two. We choose which myths to tell and which to avoid and when all is done, we talk about myths in general and why some people believe in some things and other people believe in other things…and why some people don't believe. (We also "celebrate" Easter – hiding eggs and eating chocolate is fun, too!)

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