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The Problem of Santodicy

The Problem of Santodicy December 18, 2010

I love Christmas. I love the chance we have to celebrate our relationships and take the time to think of and give to those close to us. I could listen to Christmas music all year.

I freely admit to not liking Santa, however. More precisely, I think the “Santalogical” problems far outweigh the excitement that children have as they wait for reindeer to alight on the roof and a fat mystical man to come through the chimney (or through the heating vents of my childhood, as I concluded he must do when I was in a home without a fireplace). Further, we can enjoy all substantial benefits of the Santa myth while avoiding the problems.

I don’t like how the Santa myth, at least as it is expressed in the US, encourages a binge of consumerism. I like pointing out that “X-Mas” does not remove Christ from Christmas, as Christ starts with an “X” (Chi) in Greek. The only way to remove Christ from Christmas is to write it the way many live it, $-Mas. And that is exactly what $anta Claus does. He is a consumerist replacement for Jesus. One conceptualization of God is that God is watching us all the time, so we need to be good so we will be blessed. Well with $anta, Santa is watching all the time, so we need to be good so we get presents. I am deeply disturbed by how our culture conditions us to thoughtlessly and endlessly consume, and Santa feeds into this.

More seriously, I think the philosophical, theological, or Santalogical problems cause more damage than benefit. I really wish there were some mystical being giving things to all the inhabitants of the earth. Though why not provide clean water, food, and other basic necessities rather than toys? This is the problem of “Santodicy”, why good children get nothing for Christmas. Why don’t all children get Christmas? And even among children who do get Christmas, why is the distribution so unfair, with some very good children getting so little and some spoiled children getting far more than they ever need? And poignantly, why do a family’s financial problems affect the scale of Christmas, if it is ol’ Saint Nick providing the goods?

Finally and perhaps most importantly, I have a serious problem lying to my children, especially about a mythical character that has quasi-divine elements (he is omniscient, operates out of time, etc). One of my wife’s friends, when told by his parents that Santa does not exist, asked the logical question: “Well, then is God real?” Believing in God can be problematic, but I believe that unlike Santa, the benefits of belief in God outweigh the disadvantages and you can make arguments for God’s existence, in addition to personal subjective evidence. Do we really need to compound the problems of faith by teaching our children about two unseen, all-knowing and caring beings, one of which we know to be false?

I think that we can play the Santa game in our families. That is fun. This is what my wife’s family did, even though she asked her father before memory whether Santa was real and he said no. It is fun to put out cookies and watch Santa movies and partake selectively in Santa culture. But children don’t need to believe that Santa is a literal figure to get this benefit. Besides, most children are excited to get presents, and the wonder about Santa is only a small part of that. Yes, I do have positive memories of contemplating the comings of the Jolly Old Man in Red and his levitating team of caribou. But for the reasons I have outlined, I have not approved of passing along this tradition to my children.

Besides, I am with those who think that emphasis on Santa and presents takes away from the most important parts of the Christmas season. With Santa put in his proper place—a combination of respecting the memory of an altruistic Greek and enjoying popular culture—we can focus on Christ and family, the true importance of the Christmas season.

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