Editorial by John Ziegler

No Virginia, There is NOT a Santa Claus

12/4/2001

I know that this opinion will make me almost as popular as a member of the Taliban at a meeting of the New York City chapter of the National Organization of Women, but I admit it: I don't like Santa Claus. I think the fictional, chubby, bearded, jolly, old man is far more trouble than he is usually worth and, ideally, should be abolished. If that makes me a "Grinch" (another figment of our imagination), so be it.

Santa Claus irritates me from a number of different perspectives. First of all, he isn't real. As a person who prides himself on living in the "real" world (a place on the map, not MTV's programming schedule), it bothers me greatly to see respectable adults and usually reputable news organizations pretending that something as absurd as a man in a red suit flying with reindeer around the world in one night giving away free toys actually exists.

Somehow, somewhere, somebody (who probably owned a toy store) made the arbitrary decision that all parents had to go along with this big lie or risk disappointing and alienating their own children. I have never understood the logic of parents lying to their progeny, largely for their own enjoyment. When I ask parents about this phenomenon they generally answer me that they think it is harmless and that lying to their kids is worth "the look in their eye on Christmas morning." When I point out to them that it is THEY who get the enjoyment from watching that sparkle in their child's eye, and that they are perpetuating the Santa Claus myth mostly for selfish reasons, I rarely get much of a response (nor do I tend to get many Christmas invitations!).

It seems to me that lying to our kids about Santa Claus sends all the wrong messages and teaches many unfortunate lessons. How are our children supposed to take us seriously when we tell them not to lie, when eventually they will find out that we deceived them on one of the most important topics of a child's youth? Perhaps Santa Claus is partially responsible for the epidemic of dishonesty that exists in our culture today (I understand Bill Clinton may have been particularly traumatized by finding out St. Nick wasn't real).

But lying isn't the only example that perpetuating Santa Claus sets for our children. It also leads them to believe, just as they are forming the beginnings of a fragile "worldview," that the universe is a magical place where good is always rewarded and where evil is always punished. While this aspect of the myth may be useful as a tool for getting your three year old to behave during December, it most certainly is not accurate and may well set our kids up to be bitterly disappointed when they inevitably learn the way the world really works.

Santa Claus also puts far more pressure on parents to produce a bounty under the Christmas tree than would otherwise be present. Largely because of Santa, parents have to worry about their children feeling as if they were "bad" if they didn't receive as many gifts as their friends. This burden is particularly heavy and counterproductive for parents who don't make as much money (ironically, perhaps because one parent chose to stay home with the children) as their neighbors. Every year parents of allegedly sound mind embarrass themselves as they desperately try to find whatever the unattainable toy of that season is, all in the name of Santa Claus. Of course, since the shopping malls count on this type of emotional blackmail to fuel their holiday feast, it is no surprise that it is there that you will find Santa's presence, both literally and figuratively, looming the largest.

But just because the makers of toys have a vested interest in keeping our kids dreaming about Santa Claus, that doesn't mean that the rest of our institutions have to blindly follow along. Public schools and news media outlets are among the most inexcusable and overly willing accomplices in this grand Santa Claus conspiracy. As a way of getting around the sticky issue of acknowledging Christmas without actually mentioning Jesus Christ, both entities (which allegedly pride themselves on telling the truth) have adopted Santa as the "official," indisputable, symbol of not only that holiday, but of the entire season.

This strange and rather unsanctioned reality has become so engrained that at least one community (the "People's Republic of Kensington" in Montgomery County Maryland) has tried to ban Santa from a public ceremony because he is seen by some as a quasi RELIGIOUS figure. As an agnostic, I happen to agree that Jesus and Santa do have a lot in common, but my Christian friends would be shocked and horrified to learn that the character they think was used to hijack (are we allowed to use that word again, yet?) their holiday is now considered to be synonymous with Christ.

Perhaps Santa's downfall will be that he has gotten too big for his own, rather substantial, britches. The only other hope for my lonely crusade against St. Nick is that so many children are becoming so advanced, so quickly, that they usually figure out the ruse on their own before there is too much damage done. Unfortunately for mine own case, I was not nearly that smart.

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