This might well be the last post I make before Christmas Day, and I wanted to direct your attention to this post on Northier Than Thou, which sums up the problems with the imagined War on Christmas. While the religious aspects of Christmas have always been important to many, it’s been a secular holiday as well for a long time, and you don’t have to believe Jesus is the Messiah to want to celebrate some of the values the holiday is generally regarded to stand for. If you think Christmas is being marginalized, and then you insist it’s only for Christians and Santa Claus has to be a white guy, isn’t that self-defeating? And from what I know of Kirk Cameron’s movie, even though the advertisements tend to claim it’s about showing up those spoil-sport secularists, the actual plot involves Cameron preaching the values of Christmas materialism to someone who’s convinced the holiday is TOO secular.
I thought Christmas having gotten too commercial was something the believers and the secularists could agree on, and now self-styled evangelists are actually taking the opposite position? I guess that’s a result of the uneasy marriage of religious fundamentalism and big business. (I’m assuming they only got married because they thought it was immoral to have sex otherwise.) Not everyone has to celebrate Christmas, but I’ve always found plenty to like about it even if I don’t think this one guy born in a manger is the key to a successful life. It’s about the return of light when it’s darkest, and about a glimmer of hope and joy in a world that often seems terrible and cruel.
It’s commonly known that Jesus and Santa have quite a bit in common. Saints often became minor gods of a sort, and St. Nicholas is one of the foremost examples. People are told that they should believe in both with little to no evidence, and that both will reward or punish them based on how they act. So do kids actually stop believing in God when they stop believing in Santa, or is that just a bit of anti-Clausism?
Not that I think there’s anything wrong with it if people do. As a skeptical atheist, I think you SHOULD ask for proof instead of just proceeding on faith. That said, I can get behind a lot of what both Jesus and Santa represent, even if I don’t think they’re actual beings affecting my life. Well, some of what they represent, anyway. I think there’s been a general shift away from the less pleasant aspects of Santa, in that he’s usually not said to whip bad kids or shove them in his sack anymore. Some cultures give Santa partners like the Krampus to do such things, making Yuletide visits sort of a good cop/bad cop thing. (“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m a right jolly old elf! But I can’t say the same for my partner.”)
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that L. Frank Baum’s version of Santa is pretty much the ultimate good guy, so reluctant to hurt any living thing that he won’t chop down trees, and giving presents to good and bad, rich and poor alike.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is also quite pagan in many ways, although it also has a rather Christian take on the afterlife. Some more modern Santas are a little meaner than Baum’s, like the unusually cranky one in the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Still, he’s generally thought of as someone who genuinely wants to help make people’s lives at least a little less miserable. And I get the impression there was a lot of that to Jesus as well, even though the scriptures occasionally make him out to be abnormally mean as well.