Tis the season to be jolly with friends who are dear to us gathered near to us sharing figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer, spreading joy to the world and god bless us everyone, thank you very much.
But December is also a time for observance, a time when we prepare for, and celebrate the annual arrival of a symbol that has changed us all. No, not Jesus; I’m talking about the other symbol that shares top billing this time of year: Santa Claus.
Santa is as important to the holiday season as anything else, and this is actually a great thing. Now, before you get out your pen of indignation and write a hate letter on incensed stationary, let me explain. Every year, the grumblings begin that the Santa character detracts from the true meaning of the season. It is a tiring complaint because, for those who attach strong religious beliefs to Christmas, Santa can’t really take away from the holiday’s significance. If anything, Father Christmas can reinforce it amongst Christians.
Moreover, Santa is the most religious secular figure we have in this country. He is one of the first characters children are introduced to, and like a magical super hero, he’s a symbol of joy and charity celebrated in songs, TV specials and movies.
While primarily attached to Christmas, Santa isn’t limited to the little Christian boys and girls. The idea of the gift-giver who loves everyone and who wants us to care for one another is available to all people, and I’ve certainly known more than a few Jews who have climbed on board the Polar Express and decorated dorm rooms, apartments and homes for Christmas.
Why shouldn’t they? Kris Kringle is the ultimate good guy geek icon. He is Superman, Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, Gandalf the White, James Bond, Doctor Who and James T. Kirk all rolled into one.
Here’s a guy with an alliterative secret identity who operates out of the North Pole in a Fortress of Solitude. He’s a philanthropist with a tricked-out Santa-mobile sleigh, appears in the darkness of night and works with mad ninja skills. He collaborates with a fellowship of elves, is immortal and has a white beard to rival Dumbledore’s. He is identifiable by a signature catchphrase and outfit, and looks after the innocent while watching the naughty. Plus, traveling the globe and visiting so many homes in one night requires time travel and a transporter.
Yet Santa is a creation who has been elevated to the status of a flesh-and-blood man. There’s no other fictional character that can really be said about. Further, in an unscientific survey, I found more people were willing – or wanting – to believe in the existence of Father Christmas over Bigfoot or aliens. And if aliens ever do pay us a visit between Thanksgiving and New Year, they’d reasonably deduce a beloved jolly fat man in red was the very real leader to be taken to.
But when it comes to emblazoning homes and businesses with images of a fictional character - or taking children to the mall to take photos with “helpers” dressed up as him - we could do way, way worse than a man who encourages love, charity and good behavior. After all, it’s not as if we are promising little kids that once they fall asleep, Hannibal Lecter will slip in through the chimney and pay them a visit.