Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There Is No Sanity Clause

I think I’ve done... pretty much everything I’m supposed to. I know I missed sending out cards to half the world. And I’m sure I forgot presents for another half. But I’m finished, and there’s nothing to be done about it.

I shan’t waste breath ranting about commercialisation, or in querying the nature of this bizarre, hybrid sort of holiday. If you’re not already aware of the peculiar origins of modern Christmas — that is, if you’re genuinely of the opinion it’s a Christian celebration recognising the birth-date of Jesus of Nazareth — I’m afraid that your ignorance is just too massive for me at this time. I’m not averse to tilting at the odd windmill, but I’m simply too tired right now to consider engaging with people who are deliberately ignorant of the history of their own culture.

Instead, I’m just gonna ask one simple question. Why ‘Santa Claus’?

Oh, sure. I know the historical roots of the character: Nicholas of Myra, sometimes called Nicholas the Wonderworker, a Greek bishop around the fourth century who became known for acts of anonymous charity and gift-giving. And it’s a nice story, and a nice concept.

What I want to know is why we perpetuate the fat bugger in the red suit?

I don’t get it. I’m sitting here typing away, thinking about phrases like ‘the magic of Christmas’ and considering how we’re supposed to fool kids with this fairy tale about the fat guy and the reindeer and the wildly improbable circumnavigation of the globe in a single night. And honestly, whose kids really believe that? I know the Mau-Mau is still too young to really understand the size of the world, but I’m quite sure that at nine, Elder Son is well aware of Santa as a myth. And I’m sure that Younger Son, who turned seven today, is equally aware.

Because it doesn’t make any sense. The smallest amount of logic applied to the story makes it fall apart. So, Santa gives gifts to ‘good boys and girls’, does he? How the fuck does he know? And what kind of gifts to the kids on the edge of starvation in the Sudan get? Or are they automatically ‘bad’ for being born in a Santa-free zone?

As adults, we talk patronisingly about not telling the children. Apparently we’re meant to think it’s somehow sweet that they are prepared to believe in a mysterious magical break-and-enter artist who flies around the world distributing gifts in a pattern which heavily favours wealthy households of putatively Christian cultures.

Uhhh... why?

That’s the bit I don’t get. Not at all. I can deal with exchanging presents in recognition of the Gifts of the Magi, no matter how far off-date Christmas may be. (For the record: best historic evidence suggests Jesus of Nazareth was likely born around September.) That’s cool. But... why are we trying to tell our kids that some magic muppet is responsible for putting ‘em out there?

Why is that sweet? Or special? Or magical? Why aren’t we acknowledging that mum and dad worked bastardly hard to manage all this? What’s wrong with saying: it’s Christmas, kid, and the custom is that gifts are given. Why do we try to hide it all behind a fictional devolution of a minor religious figure from sixteen centuries ago?

Would kids look forward to Christmas any less if the gifts didn’t come from a random, anonymous source?

I dunno. I have some suspicions. I think maybe Santa can cop the blame when kids set their sights too high, you know?

“Aww, gee... I didn’t get a Playstation 2 with Thundertronic Sound and a 52-inch plasma screen!”
“Yes. I guess Santa couldn’t fit it in the sleigh this year.”

And I can see where, in the season of giving and with all the Christmas propaganda about charity and generosity, your pragmatic kid from the lower socio-economic bracket is gonna need some kind of explanation as to why his year of good behaviour was only worth a pair of shoes and a Frisbee, while that fat bastard of a kid who lives over in the rich section of town made out like a complete goddam bandit, even though he’s the biggest shitheel in the entire school. But honestly? Santa doesn’t actually level the playing field there. In fact, quite the reverse.

So... what gives?

I know. I’m tired. I’ve been doing the Christmas Consumer Shuffle for too damned long. With three kids, one of whom has his birthday on Christmas Eve, I think I’ve finally suffered the Yuletide equivalent of shell-shock. Not only do I not like the hideous commercial side of this whole goddam time of year, but I no longer understand Santa Claus at all, if I ever did.

Help me out here, folks. I haven’t done anything either to perpetuate the Santa myth, or debunk it in the eyes of my kids. But today I’m tired and weary, and I’m pretty much at the point of laying it on the line: there’s no Santa. Your mum and dad love you, and we think that it’s nice to have a day for giving presents, and that’s all there is to it.

Is that so evil?


  1. They figure it out anyway, usually by five or six. And in my case they then figure out that religion's also made up by people, and go off to discover cool stuff about the universe themselves, or have a crack at it anyway.

    I was told once that the red fat guy suit was a construct of Coca-Cola marketing in the early C20th, but I don't know if this is an urban myth. He's just a stand-in for parental expectation/blackmail I figure. Empathize on the kid-born-on-Xmas eve thing, our eldest is Dec 30th.

    Just finished reading a couple of books about physics (science nerd on holidays, go figure) and had a crack at developing a quantum theory of Santa, but actually-smart-people on the interweb have already had a much more successful and witty crack at this, so have done the noble thing and given up.

  2. Mate it's all too hard and you know here I am a DINK whose only worry is whether he can afford to get both Modern warfare 2 and dragon Age this xmas...

    I sound like a broken record, but I have to take my hat off to you how you manage to pull everything together.

    Merry Christmas Dirk for what it's worth. hope to meet up with you this year, somewhere...

  3. You've left it a bit late, Chaz! Got about a week left... maybe next year?

  4. "Oh, we got into an argument and he pulled a knife on me so I shot him."

    Sorry, we were talking about A Night at the Opera, weren't we?

    Yobster - partly so. The image that we have now certainly owes a lot to Coke advertising from that era, but it isn't that they made the whole thing up. It's a bunch of different central European folk traditions, sort of plaited together.

    Flinthart, every year we have child-friendly events at our place on 1) the Saturday closest to Australia Day (though we call it our dog's birthday) and 2) either the last Saturday of August or the first Saturday of September. 2) is always a Pirate Party. If you and yours are ever north of the Tweed at that time you're very invited.

    The neat thing, at least for the January one, is that the deck overlooks the pool, so an adult from each family can take station at that particular rail, which is conveniently wide enough to set a drink down upon. I have no idea whether I shall have to mess up that arrangement in order to comply with the new pool fencing laws, but I'm hoping I can make modifications that achieve compliance without too much compromise.

  5. Good man! If I happen to be north of the Tweed at the right time, I'll take you up on that.

    (And yes: nice catch on the Marx Bros reference!)

  6. I laughed with the way pratchett dealt with the poor kids/rich kids thing in Hogfather. Xmas is just a nice convenient day to have a good feed with the family and exchange hopefully thoughtful gifts. This year The Wife got a dishwasher. Not real thoughtful, but at least she putdown my kitchen knife once i agreed to get it.
    Have a good day Dirk and your family too

  7. Logically, I fully concur with every point U made here. 100% correct. But still, I remember back when I still believed in Santa (stopped around 6) and I recall it being alot of fun.

    Making him cookies, not being able to sleep because I hoped to catch a glimpse of him. I think I was too young to realize that some kids in the world weren't even getting food for Christmas although they'd been good all year. Honestly... I'm glad. One of the true joys of being a child for me was not having a care. No bills, no bosses, yeah....that was the stuff.

    Is it a stupid thing to continue to perpetuate? Probably. Is it fun for lots of kids all over the world? Definitely.

    Merry Christmas! Hope ur Son had a great B-day :)

  8. See, there -- that's the kind of thing I was hoping for. Thanks, Heidi. I really needed some perspective on this one.

    I actually have no recollection of ever believing in Santa. I recall wanting to stay awake all night when I was -- I would have been four, because we were still in Far North Queensland... just so I could catch my parents out and prove they were making up silly stories.

    I think the real kicker happened when we went back to the US, though. My mother - a schoolteacher - got a job at Mifflin school, in Columbus, Ohio. I don't know what it's like now, but back then Mifflin was a predominantly black neighbourhood.

    So -- they got a Santa in for the day, yeah. And my mum brought me with her to her work so I could sit on Santa's lap and get a box of crayons.

    But Santa was this totally fucking huge-ass black guy, with a big black beard. And I was this skinny little white kid...

    ... I had no issues with all the black kids around me. That was cool. I knew some people weren't the same colour as me, and it made no difference. But Santa?


    I still remember tremulously climbing into his lap. I don't know who was more anxious: me or that big, black Santa. But I got my crayons, so I guess everything was okay.

  9. "Elder Son is well aware of Santa as a myth"

    Nooooooo! Santa is real!

  10. You know Dirk, I had an all-but identical discussion with SWMBO just the other day.
    My point ran paralell to yours, with the kicker that it's eventually a lesson to kids that parents lie. Santa, Eater Bunny, drop bears, hoop snakes and compassionate conservatives et al. ALL LIES!
    I don't want the Bobette crooking an eyebrow at me when discussing thermodynamics wondering "is this more crap like the Raindeer poop you manufactured?" (yes I did & no I'm not proud of it.)
    SWMBO's line was; there is precious little magic in the world, let the kids enjoy what little there is.
    She won, but it don't mean she's right.

    Happy seasonal gluttony top you and all Team Flintheart.
    Oh and too much ham fat can make a kelpie explode, or a reasonable facsimilie of it.

  11. I'll keep that last in mind. Got a dog could use some 'splodin'.