Santa is Dead
"He sees you when you're sleeping,he knows when you're awake,he knows if you've been bad or good,so be good, for goodness sake.'' --a popular Christmas song Call me a grinch, a scrooge, a heretic, but somebody's got to tell the truth. I'll offer a thousand dollar cash reward to anyone who can prove the existence of Santa Claus (a.k.a. St. Nicholas), resident of the North Pole, an old bearded man who spends Christmas travelling the rooftops of the world on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, giving gifts, with god-like powers to see whether children are "bad or good.'' Heck, let's make it a million dollar prize. It's the holiday season, which means more of those nostalgic columns about the 1896 editorial in the New York Sun in which Francis Church answers a letter from a girl named Virginia, seeking to know the truth: Is there a Santa Claus? "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,'' answered this so-called journalist. "Alas, how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus....There would be no childlike faith, then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.'' Actually, major daily newspaper editors print lies like this in their sleep. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for myth, imagination and even make-believe. But it's time to update some of our major myths, and we might as well start with the fat man himself. I rise not to bury old St. Nick, but to tell the truth about a myth that has become a destructive one; a collective scam of religious hustlers, merchandise marketers and parents who can't control their kids without lying to them. An article by University of Rhode Island professor Judith A. Boss ("Is Santa Claus Corrupting Our Children's Morals?, Free Inquiry, Fall 1991), notes that 85 percent of all four year olds believe Santa is real. "Somewhere between the ages of six and eight children begin to relinquish their belief in Santa Claus,'' writes Boss. "However, even at the age of eight, over one-half of children are still in transition--"torn between belief and non-belief.'' "Santa is not presented to children as a symbol or representation, but as a real human who exists in his own right,'' explains professor Boss. "The use of Santa Claus to manipulate children's behavior extends to extracting obedience to parental authority....64 percent of parents surveyed told their children that Santa would bring them presents if they were good.'' Thus, our most glorified (and expensive) myth ends each Christmas morning by convincing rich kids that they are superior to their less affluent friends who didn't get as many gifts. Poor kids are told, indirectly, that they are inferior, even "bad.'' Not to mention the emotional anguish faced by poor and working parents this very holiday season as they agonize over whether to go into debt and/or sacrifice the real needs of the family to make sure that the stockings are stuffed to satisfaction. "The gifts are given against a pledge of good behavior and they are in the nature more of a bribe or a prize than of spontaneous devotion. The joy of the morning is actually a sense of relief,'' according to psychiatrist Renzo Sereno. "The constant feeling of being swindled, or cheated, or lied to by the parents is finally abated... "To claim that we need Santa Claus to teach children the spirit of goodness and generosity is to assume that this spirit exists only in make-believe,'' concludes Boss. Where does the Santa myth come from? The Christian legend claims, without foundation, that St. Nicholas was a bishop of Myra in the 4th century, according to author Barbara Walker (The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, 1983, Harper and Row). Like many Christian saints, he is a total fabrication, invented to steal and coopt the myths of cultures conquered by the Christian churches. St. Nicholas "evolved from the pagan sea god who replaced Artemis as patron of sailors and harlots,'' writes Walker. "Temples of Poseidon became shrines of St. Nicholas....Nicholas's Christian name was the same as Old Nick, or Hold Nickar, the Teutonic sea god known as king of the nixies (sea nymphs). Nicholas was also equated with Woden. As European dieties were Christianized, the benevolent aspect of Woden became St. Nicholas (Santa Claus), who galloped over housetops during the winter solstice as the elder god did, granting boons to his worshippers below.'' "In Italy,'' continues Walker, "St. Nicholas supplanted a female boon-giving diety called The Grandmother, or Pasqua Epiphinia, or Befana, who used to fill the children's stockings with her gifts. The original pagan god Nicholas gave rise to a Gnostic sect of Nicolaites who worshipped him with his cauldron of regeneration as a fertility figure. They held that the only way to salvation lay through frequent intercourse between the sexes.'' Put that in your corn-cob pipe and smoke it! And while you're celebrating St. Nick this holiday season, remember to be good boys and girls and use condoms for safer worship.