Thursday, 15 November 2007

Santa's Ho's

There's been some controversy in suburbia. A decision has been taken by some Australian department-store Santa suppliers that the fat man should refrain from saying "ho ho ho".

The reasons given: it could be interpreted as being derogatory to women, and it could scare the kids.

Of course, the first one is the real reason. While this is patently stupid, here in Australia we're actually lagging about 12 months behind the US on this point. The same mandate came down for stores over there last Christmas. And then, as now, it was a simple case of legal arse-covering.

It's interesting that somewhere along the line, someone's decided to make up a second reason. Just in case the first doesn't seem sufficient.

And I would like to take issue with this second reason. I put it to you that a big fat dude in a bright red fur-trimmed coat and enormous white beard is a scary image for kids anyway. The Ho Ho Ho has nothing to do with it. Anything the guy says has a good chance of freaking them out.

Besides, kids sitting on Santa's knee and bawling their eyes out while mum and dad look on proudly is an important Christmas tradition. Isn't it?

If you're going to follow the don't-scare-the-kiddies line of logic then you'd have to get rid of the fat man altogether, and replace him with your favourite Disney character. (I'll let you consider the logistics of sitting on Nemo's knee)

Anyway, the point is that this got me thinking about Santa in the context of our Judaeo-Christian traditions. I do this sort of thing.

It's always been a little incongruous to me that Santa, a pagan figure, is so synonymous with Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ.

I know that the aligning the these traditions is the result of various historical political conveniences, but what I'm interested in is why it has been continued. Even the deeply devout appear to have no problem attending mass one day and opening the pressies from Santa the next.

But maybe the ongoing tradition of the Santa figure has a lot more to do with our modern view of Christianity than we might think.

I put it to you that Santa is actually promoted to children, deliberately or otherwise, as a kind of proto-Jesus.

It's all there when you think about it: he's watching all the time. He knows when you've been bad or good. You can ask him for things that you want, and he rewards your good behaviour.

Growing up with an awareness of this mythical creature, who behaves in this very specific way, primes a child's mind for later belief in God/Jesus. And this is why the Santa legend has been allowed to continue comfortably alongside the Christian tradition of Christmas.

Of course, the bits missing from the Santa legend are the terrible punishments for bad behaviour (although past incarnations of Santa would leave a lump of coal in the stocking . . . a threatening reference to the fires of Hell?) and there isn't a corresponding evil Satan figure.

But that's fair enough.

After all, we don't want to scare the kids.


Shannon said...

I hear you Matt.

I don’t trust Santa. Someone with that behaviour in normal society would have another name. An elderly man paying far to much attention to the comings and goings of young children. A man who asks kids to sit on his need and “don’t be afraid to tell Santa want you really want” with the promise of a new bike and a lollypop… that’s right, this character would have another name in normal society, that name is paedophile.

I think a little “Ho, Ho, Ho” is the least of our worries.