Every year it happens; some poor guy (or girl) tells children the truth that ‘There ain’t no Santa Claus’; and the sky falls on him/her. A few years ago it was a primary school supply teacher who it seems unfortunately misjudged whether her class were already old enough to know the truth. She got suspended and special lessons on ‘the meaning of Christmas’ were arranged to put things right by, well, ensuring that the children’s belief in Santa was restored.
This year it’s a priest. Talking to children he both told them Father Christmas doesn’t exist and also told them the original legend of St Nicholas (‘Santa Claus’), a 4th Century Turkish bishop known for a probably true act of generosity and also for a few less likely miracles, one of which involves some slightly gory details. Children were reduced to tears, claimed the front page headline press story about this ‘Grinch’.
Now it may well be that the priest misjudged whether the children were quite ready for the gorier bits of the St Nick legend; but given what can be seen on children’s TV currently, I’m a bit dubious on that. It’s also getting harder and harder in these days of political correctness and such to judge that kind of issue clearly anyway….
But basically, presumably the crying was mainly over the denial of Santa. And I think it’s time to reconsider this whole business.
First, the modern ‘Father Christmas’ not only doesn’t really exist, even as a myth he’s a surprisingly modern addition to our Christmas; famous Christmas enthusiast Charles Dickens doesn’t seem to have known of him.
St Nicholas did exist; but apart from the hijacking of his name in its Germanic form of ‘Santa Claus’, he really has nothing to do with the modern essentially pagan fat red-cloaked demigod who lives at the North Pole with an elvish toy factory. St Nicholas was celebrated in Europe by a festival of giving on his proper ‘saint’s day’ of December 6th, a festival which perhaps surprisingly survived even among Protestants after the Reformation. I’m not clear how he became entangled with Christmas, the earliest example I personally know of is the appallingly sentimental American poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas….” I think I could go along with the continuation of a proper St Nicholas festival, on the proper date, which was really about giving to the needy rather than the modern consumerism; but that’s not going to happen now, is it?
Take away the St Nick connection (which is effectively abandoned in the modern Santa myth), and the modern Father Christmas has no real connection to the Christian Christmas celebration, or to Christianity at all. Indeed, Father Christmas has become an alternative to the Christian Christmas story, and an untrue alternative at that. And if you look around the shops as Christmas approaches you won’t these days see much of the Nativity, of Jesus and his family, the stable and stuff. OK, stars and angels seem to have survived from the traditional story, but otherwise it’s all Santa and ‘his’ presents, reindeer, elves, snow, robins, Dickensian scenes assorted, Christmas trees, baubles and other jazzy decorations, cards mostly not showing anything Christian….
So why do Christians put up with this? Why do we, the followers of the Way, the TRUTH and the Life, go along with the – let’s be blunt about it – LIE? Why does a priest who tells the truth about Santa get reprimanded by panicky superiors? Why do church members ‘do Santa’ and tell the Santa lie to their children?? What can be wrong in telling children the truth that they get presents from family and friends who love them, and through normal channels, not via the North Pole?
And what about the media who make such a fuss about the truth-teller? Be honest, if a priest were to tell children a deliberate lie about anything else, the media would be demanding instant unfrocking; but when it’s Santa, it’s the other way round – join in with the lie or we crucify you! Santa has become the only religion in Britain which is allowed to persecute unbelievers – and that despite the fact that none of the adult persecutors actually believe in Santa themselves! But why should Christians be pressurised to tell lies – the media and the politically-correct brigade would be up in arms at attempts to make people of other faiths go along with lies related to their faith, or let their festivals be subjected to similarly blasphemous exploitation? (‘Blasphemous’? I invite you to consider some of the words of ‘Santa Claus is coming to town…!)
I don’t like making children cry either; but in this case, who really produces the tears – the person who finally tells the truth, or the people who have told such an elaborate and deliberate lie in the first place? And while I’m in favour of religious toleration, the Father Christmas myth and the modern ‘Christmas’ that goes with him is no genuine religion – rather it is a commercialised parasite on Christianity, and surely we are well entitled to disclaim it and make clear that it’s no real part of the authentic Christmas, the Christmas which is about the incarnation of the Son of God. I think it is some indication of the bias and unfairness of the ‘political correctness’ brigade that while they’re so keen to supposedly protect those of other faiths from Christianity, they won’t protect Christianity from this parasite.
We Christians often make a token fuss about the commercialisation of Christmas; but I believe that if we really want to make an impact on that commercialisation, we need to be clear to the world out there that ‘Father Christmas’ is nothing to do with our celebrations, and that CHRISTIANS DON’T BELIEVE IN HIM!! It’s not just the commercialisation, it’s also the ‘simple truth’ aspect – we compromise Christian truthfulness when we go along with such nonsense. Having said that, it does look as if the attempt to have a secular Christmas is flagging a bit; indeed the vehemence with which people are attacked for telling the truth about Santa suggests a degree of desperation….