This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on December 21, 2011 but since then I re-share each year – and it’s become one my few (but maybe a favourite?) holiday tradition.
At five and two my kids are still young enough to truly believe in Santa and so, I’m currently doing my best to hide my hatred for the fat man in the bad suit.
There are of course many reasons to hate Santa, who (against his will I’ll acknowledge) has effectively become our patron saint of personal debt, entitled commercialism, over consumption and our enslavement to the China supply chain.
And I’m happy to add the above to my list.
But my reason is that as a parent, I believe that in the clever guise of jolliness and reindeer, it’s good ol’ St. Nick that lays the first foundation for the idea that: You are fully responsible for your own misfortunes (e.g. any lack of presents under the tree). Goodness gets its reward with material success and so, those who are less fortunate are really just getting what they deserve.
So yes, I see him as a right wing tool or is it a tool of the right wing?
Anyway, I’ll confess that I use the Santa bribe almost daily. When I’m late for work, nothing gets my five-year-old brushing those teeth and putting on his shoes like a discussion on how his behavior will play out, “in Santa’s eyes.”
But I feel guilty, since what I’m implicitly telling him is all those boys and girls who won’t wake up to a tree surrounded by gifts deserve their fate, after all, they could have done things differently now couldn’t they?
And already, my five-year-old seems to be headed down the slippery of slope of Santa self-righteousness.
It was after a minor playground dispute last week that the concept of Santa as a force of reckoning and retribution really set in for him. There was an argument over a scooter at playtime and while the teacher had given the other little boy a time out, my son relished the thought that more was in store for his classmate come Christmas.
For two days after the incident, he eagerly wondered how many presents the transgression would end up costing his little colleague.
For me, my doubts about Santa set in when I was around seven or eight. It was in the throes of the Ethiopian famine, when the Band Aid song “Do They Know Its Christmas?” was constantly on the radio.
Looking at the pictures of all these starving children, it hit me that of course there isn’t a Santa, otherwise how could this happen? (Fast forward ten years and replace Santa with God and we have a whole different post).
But reluctant to let go of the myth, I decided to test it.
In the weeks before Christmas I deliberately did things that I knew were wrong but that I wouldn’t necessarily get caught doing. It was between me and Santa — if he was out there, he would know. I pushed my little brother, I stole my classmate’s strawberry scented pencil eraser, I threw out my lunch and lied to my mom. I figured the way I was going, Santa had to take some action.
But no, come Christmas our tree was awash in gifts. Everything on my Christmas list was there. The gig was up. I realized that I could be “bad” and still get toys and that some other kid who was probably much better than me might get little to nothing.
It was actually a watershed political moment for me.
Since then I’ve linked the Santa concept to the fundamental question of how personally responsible do you think you are for your good fortune?
Take the Occupy movement (particularly in the U.S.). Even if you critique the lack of set demands, message, or leadership, it’s hard to overlook the reality that too often, no matter how “good” you are (whether it’s getting that college degree or trying to save for your first house), getting gifts under the proverbial tree of life is becoming increasingly difficult for more and more of us.
When you truly believe that your own success or good fortune is all or even primarily the result of your own actions, you not only overlook the many nuanced factors that actually led to your success but you also place the blame more fully on the other 99 per cent who weren’t so lucky.
So this season, I’m attempting to navigate the tricky boundary between indulging my own children and their fantasy and somehow pointing out that lots of good kids don’t get presents, so maybe we can try helping Santa out and stepping in for him.
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