Santa, We’ve Got You On Our Radar
FINE — so I am home spending a quiet Christmas eve at home with my dear husband, and reliving the time in extreme youth — would you believe before I started school, meaning not over four or so — when I told my parents that this Santa was a rip off, because there were people in all these suits at the couple of different stores they shopped, nobody could fly like that, lots of folks had no chimneys. Also there was nothing on our roof to designate us as Jewish but he wouldn’t come and whatever.
Often in our house, especially when my grandmother of blessed memory was alive, several things, including Santa, were simply dismissed as things necessary to “goyim,” (non-Jews) and therefore somehow for the inferior or those who were somehow mentally or socially challenged.
One self-styled parenting expert on the net has raised the question whether the Santa Claus myth is good or bad for kids.
He actually does a pretty good review of the literature. First, it doesn’t seem to be any harm for the really little ones who often live fantasy lives and believe in a lot of things they will lose beliefs for later. This is just fine. It seems that by the average of age 7, most kids seem to figure it out anyway. It is not usually lived as something traumatic — rather, as a sense of juvenile hubris at having figured out the myth.
I haven’t seen any evidence of anything horrible happening, I remember something a about a “Boogie Man” who gets little kids when they don’t obey their parents. By now I hope that everybody knows that the behavior of children — and indeed — adults can be “shaped” more by rewarding positive behaviors than by punishing bad ones, so Santa may actually have a head up on some of the other constructs used to manipulate young children.
But wait, there’s more.
Surely the easiest way to get anyone angry is to remind them of the separation of church and state around Christmas time. Once I was working in a government clinic where the staff wanted to play Christmas carols in the waiting room – which was strictly against official policy. In addition, a version of the Bible – containing only the book of Psalms and the New Testament – was left among the reading matter on one of the waiting room tables (with some handbills for a Christmas Eve revival session at a specific protestant denomination’s local church).
I insisted they clear out the waiting room of any religious promotional material, and they liked me enough to take care of matters. But they also went to great pains to tell me it was done out of respect for me personally. Nobody seemed to have a clue there was a greater principle here, and they weren’t exactly worried that an Inspector General would come through the clinic and cite them for infractions.
I thought of this incident when I read that Michelle Obama is helping Norad and the children of America track Santa Claus as he journeys from the North Pole and violates the airspace of the USA (I wonder if the TSA searched his bag of gifts and patted him down?).
Obviously she could not have provided similar services for Hanukah Harry, who is not really part of my tradition, but rather a blue-suited creation of Saturday Night Live some years ago. I don’t even know if anyone flight-delivers anything for Kwanzaa, and I am not jumping into the more obscure and esoteric religions.
I recently heard a standup comic observe that people seem to always refer to “Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa in that order” – which implies a priority or ranking of importance. Notice that Pastafarians didn’t even rate a mention.
Modern news is more likely to cover the retail success of the holiday season.
People have fought mightily to believe in Santa Claus.
There are an amazing number of people who quote the 1897 Baltimore Sun editorial – Known as “Yes, Virginia” — which basically endorses the spiritual power of the myth.
He says it in the first paragraph; we don’t want to live the holiday as exclusively commercial. We want spirituality. It is indeed part of our natures.
Curiously, the person who is the media expert who wrote on the 1897 editorial was named W. Joseph Campbell.
The one who wrote the story of what it takes to be a hero, including both Santa Claus and would you believe, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, was a different, later Joseph Campbell, the expert writer on heros of all cultures and types.
Even though the Santa Claus story may be old enough to be shrouded in mystery, the starting as an underdog and risking all and winning and being good for many. Well, we need heroes and good guys — and yes, we need a Santa Claus.
With Michelle Obama and Norad, Santa has plenty of validation. He also, apparently, doesn’t get sleepy.
I do, so I will wish you sweet dreams and a very happy new year.
Whatever you believe in, cherish your myths and get enough sleep.