I hate that guy.
It’s not just because of that whole NSA-level stalking that he does, or that he’s “Saint Niklaus” of dubious vaguely Christian origins, or even that he keeps an entire slave-labor population of elves to do his bidding.
It’s that he’s a judgmental bastard, and he teaches everyone else to be judgmental bastards around this time of year.
I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the popular concept of this red-fur-clad jerk. I mean, sure, it’s nice to have a sort of magic associated with the season – and in our case, for many years, it was the Santa Claus Spell that we did before Xmas to make “empty boxes” suddenly have stuff in them. In our family’s mythology, the Santa Claus Spell created the items meant for each person on that Fateful Night, and as the kids got older, they were initiated into the Ritual of Wrapping to make it possible.
(This was an excuse to hide all the presents so that kids didn’t get into them while they were sitting there under the tree, looking all delectable and enticing. None of them/us had very good impulse control.)
So, this discomfort has been sitting there for ages, not really formed into words, and then along comes this Audi commercial where this guy buys Santa a fancy coffee, carries his stuff, fixes his suit, etc., and in return, he gets this awesome new car.
The unspoken lesson is, of course, that if you suck up to the right people, you don’t have to actually earn anything. You can get whatever you want through manipulation, because do you really think that this guy would have done any of that for the Fat Man if he hadn’t seen this sweet ride that he totally wanted omg it’s got seat warmers?
The jewelry commercials are even worse. Do you want that girl to marry you? She’s definitely never going to agree to it because she loves you and thinks you’re a great guy. Step One is to plan to propose during a remarkably sentimental season when you can manipulate her emotions through ubiquitous caroling, and Step Two is to bribe her with a rock with no intrinsic value besides the price tag (which could, incidentally, be used towards a down payment for a house in the suburbs, but, hey, a useless hunk of carbon is cool, too, right?). Never mind the intricacies of relationships or economy – if you don’t buy the object of your affection some ridiculously expensive bauble, you just don’t care very much, do you?
Back to the Santa Claus angle, I can kinda understand where parents might like to inspire their children to behave during the Long Cold Season. I mean, I get that: We’re all in close quarters while it’s too cold for them to play outside regularly, and sometimes things can get a little crazy, and having incentives can help. But, seriously, all I can really see is the psychological damage caused by the reinforcement of the idea that you are only worth what you do and having a bad day or making a mistake makes you less worthy as a person.
All during this season, Claus and his minions like the Elf on the Shelf are watching, always watching, always judging, keeping tally of your mistakes and awesome days like a European version of Anubis, except instead of waiting for death to determine your value, it’s a yearly ritual of discrimination.
You know what’s even worse? The lesson is lost because the kids get the toys anyway. It’s exceedingly rare for a parent to actually withhold gifts during the holiday season because of that utterly shitty meltdown in toy aisle or the black eye bequeathed to the little brother. Parents are swept up in the sentimentality of the season, and gods forbid they disappoint their sweet little punkins because Christmas is the time for all the best memories – and if you disappoint the bloody little sociopaths, you’ll have less than awesome memories, and that makes you a TERRIBLE PARENT.
(As an aside: Don’t think for a moment that your kid isn’t a bloody sociopath. They all are. They’re still learning the rules of how the world works and how those rules apply to them, and until you complete your job as a parent to inspire that empathy – usually around the age of seven or eight, if you’re doing it right – they’re going to wonder if things don’t go according to the holiday commercials. Suck it up and hurt their feelings, it’s how they learn.)
I’m not just here to bitch, though. There is a solution.
For many years, we have had a bit of a different tradition. When the kids sit down to write their “letters to Santa”, they do not ask for things for themselves. They only ask for things for their loved ones. Each one has to make a list and come up with something for each person on that list, and we coach them on how to gift things to other people. We teach them things like, don’t think about what you like, think about what Grandma likes – and I promise, Grandma does not like die-cast model taxis.
When they get older, we take them shopping instead, and the message is the same. What would your siblings like? What do they need? What speaks to their lives? And if money is short or they can’t find quite the right thing for each other, we sit down and make something. Paintings, sculptures, knitting, paper crafts, whatever – just think about the person you love when you create, and that will guide you.
The point is not to teach them to bribe each other, though, for favor. The point is to demonstrate our gratitude for having each other in our lives, and the season of giving coincides with the darker times when it’s easy to lose sight of the brightness in life because of long nights and less daylight.
That was, after all, what the original winter solstice celebrations were all about. We observe the Solstice in our own way, keeping Vigil by staying up all night and keeping a fire going while the sun is away. We spend this night talking about all the things that we love about each other, sharing stories about the real season, looking forward to the next year – but, mostly, focusing on gratitude.
How is this different from Thanksgiving? Well, Thanksgiving is a contrived event connected to an imaginary version of dubious events that led ultimately to wholesale genocide, but, hey, turkey, amirite?! The Winter Solstice cannot be moved around for political gain, nor can it be anything other than what it is – the longest night of the year. In honesty, we are the ones that ascribe a meaning to it, and there is no greater meaning or power in a personal life than gratitude, so why the hell not?
Santa Claus distracts from all that. He makes us judge each other, he teaches us to determine our love for each other and our individual value based on the expense of our presents, and that is exactly the kind of bullshit that has created a consumerist society that shorts the value of True Things in favor of Pretend Things.
Seriously, this Santa Claus character? Fuck that guy. If you need the promise of presents and gifts to behave yourself during this season, you’re probably not a good enough person to get them according to his scale anyway.