Today, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray. To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”
The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.
‘Tis the season for contradictions. ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God. Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa.
Besides, I don’t believe that consumerism is the most dangerous thing about Santa. So, before you accuse me of being a Scrooge or even a Grinch, ask yourself who it is that most children worship at this time of year, and I think you’ll agree that Santa is the one we’ve all been trained to bow down to, and not just at Christmas. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our view of God has been more influenced by Santa Claus than by Christ? I dare you to compare the number of children standing in the lines at the shopping centre to get their picture taken on Santa’s lap to the number of children in Sunday School? So many of us made that same trip to see Santa when we were little and when we finally got to Santa’s lap, he asked us the big Judgement Day question that Santa always seems to ask, “Have you been good this year?” There’s only one way to answer that question – even though we may have been as deviousness might qualify us as servants of that other mythical character that begins with santa and ends with n. For all too many people this laptop confession begins a pattern for interactions with an image we create of the Father-God, who watches and records our offences, making a list if only for the purpose of forgiving us because an appropriate blood sacrifice has been made on our behalf.
Think I’m being harsh? Just listen to that song that pours from muzak speakers, the song that spells out a theology of Santa Claus. “Oh, you better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” The trouble with the theology of Santa Claus is that we keep applying it to God as we try to turn the Creator of all that is and ever shall be into a list-checking, gift-giver, whom we better watch out for, lest we be punished. Why then are we surprised that when our Santa-god fails to deliver or bad things happen to good people, that our childish faith in the Santa-god isn’t enough to sustain our trust?
Santa in his present incarnation is indeed pernicious, but like most mythical characters, he cannot be killed and any attempts to resurrect St. Nicholas to replace him are doomed, for the power of Santa’s materialism will always defeat the dim memories of St. Nicholas and his chocolate money. If we are going to break free of the cult of materialism, perhaps we out to try to convince Santa to use his mythical powers for goodness sake!
Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to say it, it’s time to let old St. Nick and his young assistant Santa die, so that a new Santa can be born; a Christmas resurrection if you will. We need a new Santa capable of changing our consuming ways. If the Coca Cola Company could use the advertising industry to transform St. Nick into Santa, surely we can resurrect Santa using the modern persuasive powers of social media to redesign the old salesman extraordinaire into a mythical character with powers fit for the needs of this century.
Imagine if you will, a new and improved Santina, all decked out in Advent blue, she has the power to open young minds to the needs of our neighbours and travels the world via her magic transporter beam, to gather the hopes and dreams of the poor and oppressed into one internet feed, which she magically imprints in our hearts and minds, so that we change the world, creating peace through justice!
Oh, wait, we already have such a character. We don’t need St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, nor any new-fangled Santina. We need the One we’ve always needed. The One who comes in the guise of a person. The One we seek is Christ. The One who lives and breathes in, with, and through us to create peace on earth through justice and love. The One who uses our hands, our feet, our lives to change the world!