In my part of Canada the “war on Xmas” begins in September when some local box stores start putting Xmas ornaments and decorations out, sometimes just after Labour Day. By mid-October there are whole store sections dedicated to pushing gaudy, offshore-made, increasingly tacky lights and displays. Then the canned Xmas music starts infecting shoppers through tinny ceiling speakers. Xmas tree lots spring up in mall parking lots. It’s a cultural virus being spread among us.
The Resistance (aka me) comes forward to bravely ignore these increasingly strident blandishments. We refuse to purchase any of their wares until at least Remembrance Day has passed us. We plucky few struggle to avoid displays showing Santa shilling snowblowers, flat-screen TVs, and kitchen mixers. The corporations against the increasingly fewer number of unwilling consumers.
And, yes, all of this has already happened here, in my small town. It happens here every year, as Xmas creep pushes the crass marketing and commercialism earlier and earlier. Every visit to a box store after Labour Day is a walk in a consumer minefield. Pretty soon, it’ll begin in July as stores try to force it upon us.
But that’s not the “war on Christmas” you were probably thinking of. It’s more like the war FOR Christmas. To defeat the evil armies of commercialism.
You probably thought I meant the faux cultural attack invented by a group of rightwingers in the USA who love to play the victim while blaming imaginary demons on liberals, Democrats, or anyone who hasn’t swallowed whole their totalitarian ideology and succumbed to the Fox “news” propaganda. And they’re still gulling their followers. Which, of course, is what Fox “news” does, in its efforts to destabilize western democracies, particularly the USA.
Recently, James Fell, the “sweary historian” and a superb commentator on events and issues, published a post on Substack about this fake cultural war. It’s the best piece I’ve read on this deception, and I really recommend you read it. Fell wrote,
It’s all bullshit. There never was a war on Christmas. It’s just white Christian Americans playing their favorite role: the victim. In 2021, the 117th Congress became the most diverse in history, but despite this, fewer than a quarter of them represent either a racial or ethnic minority. Also, 88% of Congress is Christian, compared with 65% of the general U.S. population. And yet, the far right and evangelical Christians constantly complain about how they’re having all their rights trampled, they’re victims of “white genocide,” that “political correctness is running amok” and liberals want to “destroy everything wholesome in our country…”
Instilling fear is often a winning political strategy for the right. Republicans make people think their religion, their culture, their very lives are at stake, and the alleged War on Christmas was an easy way to instill that fear by saying “SEE? Bloomingdales is having a HOLIDAY sale! Next thing you know they’ll make Christianity ILLEGAL!” The fear spreads and acts as a bonding and motivating force among voters to prevent anyone preaching a modicum of inclusivity from getting elected.
The same goes for “season’s greetings.” As Fell also notes, “There are at least 14 different religious holidays celebrated in December, and the phrase “Happy Holidays” had been around for a long fucking time; it appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1863, and hey guess what nobody gave a shit.”
It’s equally okay not to dress your house up in environmentally-questionable lights, not to erect statues of imaginary beings and religious cult figures on your lawn, not to kill a tree so you can decorate it for a couple of weeks then throw it into the landfill, But it is okay to send generic holiday greeting cards to friends and relatives.
Well, Fell’s wrong about one thing: these aren’t “white Christian Americans” waging this culture war. They’re pseudo-Christians, aka the Talibangelists, aka Christofascists. They merely use a false patina of faith to gull the rest of the populace. They are and always have been fervent totalitarians masquerading as religious.
And Fell doesn’t address the whole corporate marketing mythology behind Santa Claus who has replaced Jesus as the god of the season. Santa, as adults know, is the corporate Xmas deity who rewards spending, debt, consumerism, and subsequent guilt when parents fail to live up to their childrens’ expectations to receive new toys, devices, ponies, or whatever, without having to work for their rewards.
The apotheosis of Santa Claus
I first wrote about the deification of Santa Claus in my earlier blog, back in 2005, much of which I reproduce below. Every year around this time, I worry about what we’re saying to our children about who we are, what we believe, and what values they should grow up with. Should children be told lies?
Santa Claus is a uniquely western deity who has come to represent Christmas over the past century. So ubiquitous has he become as the commercial god of the season that I prefer to call it Xmas, since even for the most devout Christians, there isn’t much of their Christ in Christmas any more. And for the billions of non-Christians, Santa Claus is the visible icon of Western faith, the omnipotent deity who sits on the throne of worshipful consumerism.
The Wordnet site described a deity as:
- The supernatural being conceived as the perfect and omnipotent and omniscient originator and ruler of the universe;
- The object of worship in monotheistic religions;
- Any supernatural being worshipped as controlling some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is the personification of a force;
- A material effigy that is worshipped
The now-defunct Coreweb also defined God as “A hypothetical entity that can violate the laws of nature, e.g., by making something from nothing.” And the equally defunct Wordreference site (all of these sites were present in ’05) had this definition: “any supernatural being worshipped as controlling some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is the personification of a force.” The existing Merriam-Webster dictionary adds, “one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful.”
By any definition of the term, Santa Claus is a god. I offer as further proof these widely acknowledged attributes:
- He can travel around the world, visiting all of the homes of more than 7 billion people (or at the least, the homes of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians) between a single day’s dusk and the next dawn, without missing any one of them (except those he punishes, see below).
- Santa easily violates the laws of physics by appearing almost simultaneously in millions (billions?) of places at the same time, completely ignoring the Newtonian laws of energy conservation, too.
- He judges right and wrong for millions of children, handing out rewards and punishments according to his own system of standards. Those standards are not defined in any canon, but rather are arbitrarily determined by his unique sense of “good” and “bad.” And his rewards are linked to commercial products promoted by corporate advertisers.
- Children are encouraged to worship him through prayer, letters, and requests, promising good behaviour in exchange for the material gain Santa provides in the same way faithful ask favours of their saints and gods.
- He is omniscient: he sees everyone at all times, knows everyone’s names, and weighs everyone’s actions, making lists of who is “naughty” or “nice” according to his own, evidently arbitrary judgment.
- He is able to remember the billions of names on that list.
- He has a host of supernatural sub-deities: elves who can build millions of toys in his workshop without any apparent source of raw materials, and without violating any trademark or copyright laws, let alone labour laws. Plus, he has supernatural reindeer which can fly without wings — a violation of the natural order — at greater than supersonic speed; at least one has an illuminated noses without any source of power. These sub-deities are analogs to angels and a heavenly host.
- He eats millions upon millions of cookies and drinks millions of glasses of milk every Xmas eve, yet never bloats beyond his jolly character body mass.
- Santa defies gravity and flies by no natural or known means (magical or supernatural powers), easily moving from rooftop to ground level in a trice.
- His small sleigh can magically hold not only all the presents destined for millions of children, but carry its enormous weight yet not appear over-burdened (one is reminded of the basket of fishes that fed 5,000 near Galilee).
- He can squeeze his large bulk through a tiny chimney that would block a cat, but without suffering any physical effects (including getting dirty on the way down, getting burnt by the heat, or setting off any alarms).
- Santa is able to enter homes without chimneys, although the magical method of doing so is never explained. And he does so without asking anyone’s permission, or setting off security alarms, violating basic privacy laws.
- Santa Claus has many effigies that represent His presence and encourage worship; statues, idols, lit icons on lawns, images and statues in home and store windows, images in advertising and in-store merchandising.
- He lives in a distant place not identified with an actual location but vaguely placed at the North Pole (geographically ice in winter, open water in summer), similar to the abode of the Norse (Valhalla) or Greek (Olympus) gods. Humans cannot visit or even see his lair, but Santa is able to leave it to visit human realms.
- Santa is eternal. He was not born, he doesn’t age, he doesn’t die, he doesn’t even apparently get ill. He never tires, never stops on his journey for a pee break.
Santa Claus is clearly a male god, like Zeus, Odin, or even Jehovah; elderly and wise, with a similar long, flowing beard and ornate costume. But unlike the libidinous Greek and Norse gods, Santa is essentially asexual: there is a Mrs. Claus (first name unknown; she was first mentioned in American literature in 1849), but has no offspring (unlike the deities of many other faiths who seem to delight in impregnating humans who subsequently give birth to a demi-god).
Santa also appears to be monogamous, since no sexual affairs with other deities or humans has yet been mentioned. Although usually portrayed as an elderly female deity, portly with grey hair, Mrs. Claus is sometimes portrayed as a succubus, at least in costume and cosplay sites.
Santa’s spouse has few if any of the miraculous or supernatural powers Santa has, usually portrayed making cookies for the elves and tending the reindeer; stereotypical female duties. However, she apparently sometimes assists in toy production, which suggests she has hidden powers that allow her to help create millions (billions?) of toys. But mostly she exists as a cipher, merely to prove Santa isn’t homosexual. The only thing we can assume is that, like her spouse, she enjoys a similar form of immortality.
Proof of existence?
Santa has his own day of celebration: December 25 when schools close and work stops. Parents and kids alike get the day off to worship his benevolence. While it’s a religious holiday too, the distinction is vague and clearly Santa’s image is everywhere, while Jesus’ image or statue is seldom seen outside churches. Santa is happy; shown everywhere enjoying life and owning goods; Jesus is often shown tortured, almost naked, on a cross.
A smiling Santa gives out X-Boxes, Hot Wheels, ponies, cash, and Barbie dolls to deserving boys and girls; he lives in a cheery house and owns a great factory in the North Pole. Baby Jesus is outside in a stable with animals, not even a proper home; he gets some bits of metal and tree resin as gifts from some strangers, and has some kid nearby beating on a drum so he can’t even sleep.
The Canadian and American Post Offices will accept letters addressed to Santa Claus, at the North Pole (postal code H0H 0H0). They will not accept letters addressed to Jesus, God, Allah, Muhammed, Buddha, Shiva, Kirshna, The Flying Spaghetti Monster… this gives official status to Santa as a legitimate being, while the others must be imaginary.
NORAD will track Santa on their radar and you can watch his progress online, a service not offered for any other deity by our armed forces.
Santa is featured in numerous movies, replayed seasonally on many TV channels. There are very few films about other religious deities which get any sort of air time. Obviously, Santa is more important than other gods because he stars in more movies and TV commercials. He certainly has a better PR staff to promote him.
What children are taught
We teach children that an eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent figure not identified in any religious canon has equal powers to any scriptural deity. That this character has the authority to punish or reward their behaviour; that he has the ability to violate the laws of physics by travelling around the world in almost no time and has animals (analogues of angels) which defy gravity.
We tell children for many years of their critical development period that Santa Claus is real, and a potent force to determine their fate and their morality (or at least provide their physical and commercial rewards on Christmas day). And that Santa is more beneficent than their parents because he alone provides their gifts that day — not the hard-working parents.
Then, inevitably, they learn that Santa is a myth. They learn adults have lied to them for years, that adults have betrayed and misled them. One of the earliest lessons we teach our children is that adults lie about important things. Since Xmas is such a big event, learning Santa is a fake can be traumatic. Who will reward them with toys if he isn’t real?
Will they realize they aren’t actually being judged on being good or bad (nice or naughty) all year: there’s no invisible tally being kept. No matter how they behave, they will get the goods every year. Xmas rewards are not based on ethics or morality; they are entitlements. So much for being weighed in the balance and found wanting!
How will children be able to determine the other important things adults tell them — about religion, morals, values, honesty, truth, cooperation, peace, respect, the environment and so on — are valid when they’ve just learned that everything they were told, everything they believed in for years, is a lie? And they see every Xmas that adults seem to feel no guilt whatsoever in perpetuating this same lie on other children again and again. Children learn their parents do not have consistent ethical values, but rather those that change to fit their convenience.
Little wonder as adults they fall for Trump’s Big Lie: that he won the 2020 election, not lost it.
If Santa is a lie, what’s to say “stealing is wrong”‘ or “taking your dad’s gun and shooting your classmates is wrong” is a lie? How can you tell children that — after years of saying he is real and omnipotent — the God Santa isn’t real after all, but at the same time tell them the omnipotent God Jesus is? Haven’t you sown the seeds of disbelief in them from a young age?
Does Santa punish children of other faiths by not leaving presents simply because they were born into a religion? Children must see that as very arbitrary and even unfair. Or perhaps they think Christians must be superior because they have a god who distributes real toys and the other religions don’t. And by association with the reward-punishment of gift giving, those other children — therefore their religions — must have been bad because they didn’t get any gifts. Not a very good way to encourage tolerance and inclusivity.
Christian kids must already be baffled by the plethora of gods, demons, saints, and angels already present in their religion (five gods for Catholics, four for Protestants*). Adding Santa into the mix only confuses the pantheon because he comes from outside the canon. Where does he fit? Is he more or less powerful than Jesus? Or is he Satan in disguise? (don’t snicker: some evangelical Christians suggest that Santa is associated with Satan).
Santa also punishes people for being poor: children of the poor and homeless don’t get the same amount and types of gifts, even when they’ve been good all year. Richer children get bigger and more gifts, so therefore being rich means being rewarded more. Obviously, the capitalist Santa believes being poor is bad (Santa is likely a conservative or even a libertarian. He’s definitely not a socialist, because then everyone would get gifts regardless of race, religion, or income. As a god, Santa has very definite political leanings.)
Does Santa pay his elves? Or does he run a sweatshop? Do his elves work a standard 40-hour week or are they on the 24/7 shift? Do they get holidays and benefits? What does that tell children about the ethics of the workplace? Are Santa’s elves actually his slaves as this piece suggested:
While it is clear that the elves, with their nimble hands and tireless hours of work, are indispensable to Santa’s enterprise, what is much less clear is how they are treated. This ambiguity has given rise to concerns about their working conditions. Over at debate.org, for instance, an online poll posed the following question: “Are Santa’s elves just slaves?” A resounding 57 percent of respondents said “yes.”
Should we teach children it’s okay for a strange man to enter the house at night when everyone is sleeping, see kids in their beds and night clothes, let him leave unknown objects in their living rooms, and consume their food? Before Xmas, we introduce kids to Santa at some mall, forcing them to sit on his lap. At the same time, we warn kids about not letting strangers touch them, not letting them in the house, not accepting gifts from them. Which is right?
Santa gives gifts every year — clearly he is more benevolent than Jesus who never gives anything but a cryptic smile on a statue. Santa punishes bad kids every year by giving them nothing, or perhaps the legendary lumps of coal instead of gifts. Is he more powerful than Satan who only gets to punish you when you die?
Why isn’t the iconic Santa in the Bible? Children can prove the existence of Santa because he leaves physical evidence when he visits. They cannot prove the existence of Jesus or God by any similar physical means. Santa requires no abstract faith, only empirical knowledge.
We’re telling kids Christmas is about greed, gimme, about shopping, about owning things, about having more, getting more, demanding more than anyone else gets. That it’s about spending your money in Walmart, Winners, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, and other stores; it’s about shopping malls and tawdry plastic decorations, it’s about feeling pressured to buy, buy, buy.
It’s not about giving, either. Santa does that: kids just have to demand what they want to get. Xmas is about gimme. Santa is the Great God of Gimme. And that’s what we’re teaching our kids.
A little history
Santa Claus is supposedly a corruption or Anglicization of Saint Nicklaus or Nicholas, based on the story of the fourth-century Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (modern Turkey). St. Nicholas, however, may not even be a real person, since there is no documented proof of his existence, his deeds, or his writings. Yet by 1500, there were more than 2,000 churches dedicated to St. Nicholas in Europe.
His name “Saint Nicholas” became bastardized in Europe to “Saint” (pronounced “San”) Nicklaus” which became “San -Niklaus” – evolving to our Santa Claus. Or perhaps, as Washington Irving wrote, it comes from the Dutch legend of “Sinter Klaas.” The current figure of Santa and his commercial godhead are really the products of American marketing, born first in the mind of artist Thomas Nast in the late 19th century, then reborn in the 1920s as the ruddy-faced, cheery chap in the red suit we know today.
The entity known as Santa was enhanced and developed by commercial interests in the 1930s and the subsequent war years. Commercial forces quickly took over and buried any religious aspect to Christmas in order to turn Santa into an advertising effigy whose role was to boost retail sales.
The image of the fat, jolly Santa in his workshop — the focus for Coca Cola’s advertising campaign in the mid-1920s although they did not invent it — gelled, quickly pushing all other images and depictions of Santa out of the picture. It worked itself into the national psyche of North America, then Europe and today is almost uniform in advertising.
Santa’s home was first located in Lapland — Finland — then moved to the North Pole (possibly because you could actually visit Finland and not find the toy factory). The North Pole has the advantage of being, like Valhalla and heaven, a non-state, outside political alignments, and impossible for most people to visit.
In the post-war boom of exuberant spending, Santa Claus became like Dionysus on steroids: the god of commercial sales, of consumerism, of excess, more powerful than the old gods, with a greater presence, and worshiped for his appeal to base human greed. And in worshipping him, we have sold our collective souls, not to some supernatural evil like the imaginary Lucifer, but to the very real marketing departments of the corporations.
Santa Claus has become the commercial/corporate equivalent of Orwell’s ubiquitous “Big Brother” — but far more frightening in his reach.
No, the real war we should wage on Christmas is against the Xmas creep that sees the commercialization steadily progress backwards in the calendar year, and it’s long overdue for stores to dump Santa Claus.
* Five deities are eternal, omnipotent, omniscient and have supernatural powers, and are objects of worship or fear (sometimes both): Jehovah, Holy Ghost, Jesus, Mary, and Satan. Protestants do not generally worship Mary, but subscribe to the rest. In some churches there is worship of saints and angels, as well, so the pantheon often varies in size.