Santa Claus Lives In Your Heart, Not in Washington, D.C.
December 23, 2013
By Don Feder
The Hollis, New Hampshire Primary School has a zero tolerance policy for jolly men in red suits.
On December 19, a man dressed as Santa was almost arrested there. He had the audacity to visit the school, tap on windows, wave to the children and try to enter the building.
The local constabulary was called,
parents notified, the school shut down and Superintendent Dr. John Moody
pronounced the incident a "serious violation" of the district's "protocol." Dr.
Moody is a product of a school of education, where his sense of humor was
surgically removed and pomposity implanted in its place.
The investigating officer, who seemed
bemused by the uproar, said Santa told police "he was just trying to spread some
holiday cheer." (But did he have a permit?) "He just thought it would be a cool
holiday thing for the kids to see Santa wave through the window," Lt. Rich Mello
Such is the world we live in that trying to "spread holiday cheer" is suspicious if not threatening. In trying to enter a public school, did Santa attempt to breach the wall of church/state separation? Should Moody have notified the ACLU?
Perhaps the Hollis Santa was one of those potential terrorists of the right that a 2009 Homeland Security report warned us about – returning veterans "with combat skills," gun owners and right to lifers. His color is red, after all.
Old St Nick has taken a few hits this holiday season. Over at Slate.com, Aisha Harris (part of the racial grievance industry) wrote a
cri de coeur titled "Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore." Never mind that St. Nicholas, the third century monk who was the source of the legend, was white
– as was every visual representation of him over the past 150 years.
History is so insensitive. Why can't Santa be a Polynesian surfer anyway?
"America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies,"
Slate's "cultural blogger" kvetches. Apparently, the classic depiction of Santa Claus as an old, white dude causes "insecurity and shame" among "millions of nonwhite kids." Someone should take away Harris's laptop, before she hurts herself with it.
As an antidote to yuletide insensitivity, Harris wants to replace the fat, old, honky with – I kid you not – a penguin. "People love penguins. There are blogs dedicated entirely to their cuteness," Harris breathlessly informs us. Best of all, no one need feel excluded – except, perhaps, the walruses and polar bears.
The absurdity of replacing Santa Claus with a flightless bird aside, the obsession with inclusion never takes a holiday. Besides non-whites, the
classic representation of Santa Claus as a fat, jolly, old man excludes women,
the young, the slim and the cranky. Imagine the "insecurity and shame" that millions of the dour, morose and grumpy are forced to endure by Santa's incessant ho-ho-ho-ing.
Despite the magical story (filled with candy canes, snowflakes and tinsel) told by generations of loving parents, Santa is incorporeal.
He represents the impulse to help others (whether their suffering is material or psychological)
– to put a smile on a child's face or show the old and destitute that someone cares. Compassion doesn't have a race. Benevolence comes in every color imaginable.
My favorite Christmas story is "The Night of The Meek," an episode of the old Twilight Zone series. Art Carney plays a department store Santa who's just been fired for coming to work drunk.
Carney spends much of his days in an alcoholic haze. He drinks to dull the pain.
As he puts it, he lives in a "dirty rooming house on a street filled with hungry kids and shabby people." As he sits on a curb, in his rented costume, he's approached by a pair of urchins who plead with Santa for presents, a Christmas dinner and a job for their father. His heart overflowing, Carney hugs the children as he sobs.
Later, to the tinkling of bells, this man on the edge of despair finds a burlap
sack that seems to be filled with garbage in an alley. Except whatever anyone asks for, Carney can pull out of the bag. After spreading joy to all and sundry, the sack is empty.
A friend comments that Carney has "taken nothing for yourself, not a thing!" The Skid Row Santa replies that all he wants is to continue doing this every year. The conclusion finds him back in the alley. Bells ring again, a sleigh and reindeer appear, an elf says "We've
been waiting for you Santa," and Carney is whisked away to the North Pole, his wish granted.
This is the essence of Santa Claus, why he appeals so strongly to our nature – young and old, rich and poor, whatever our race or creed. Santa is a response to human want and suffering, given with an open hand and a glad heart.
The need to give – to share – is universal and intrinsic to the human condition. If the spirit doesn't expand through acts of generosity, it contracts, until all that's left is a tight, hard ball of loneliness and despair.
That's the real message of "A Christmas Carol." More than any other, Scrooge was the victim of his miserliness. Hence the response of Nephew Fred to the old man's "bah humbug," "I feel sorry for you, Uncle."
Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" is Dickens' tale in reverse. Instead of ghosts showing Scrooge how avarice ruined his life, George Bailey gets to see how grim Bedford Falls would be if he'd never been born – a town not shaped by his sacrifice and innate decency,
left to the mercies of the Henry Potters of the world.
It's great for kids to believe in the toy shop at the North Pole, flying reindeer, and a man who loves so much that he gives gifts to children everywhere. But, ultimately, Santa Claus lives in your heart
Santa is within us. He does not reside in our nation's capital.
I suppose it's a natural mistake to make, confusing Santa Claus and Uncle Sam. Both are elderly gents
– Caucasian, to be sure – with white beards. (Imagine the psychic pain and trauma this causes to millions of nonwhite children.) Both wear a costume. Coincidentally, both were popularized in their current guise by 19th century illustrator Thomas Nast.
Too many of my fellow Americans believe in Obama Claus – the smug community-organizer elf who stuffs stockings with Obama-phones, food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, health insurance for "30 million uninsured" and other welfare state goodies.
But does Santa steal to pay for the presents he leaves? Does he pick the pockets of parents to buy toys for kids? Does he spy, harass, lie and intimidate? Does he monetize the debt by inflating the currency? Is his sleigh loaded with 7% unemployment, growing dependency, and fatherless families? Does he promote poverty, which increased 16.7% under Obama?
Does Santa vacation at posh Martha's Vineyard digs, spend more time on the links than in the workshop, and then lecture us on our obligation to the less-fortunate?
Where do the presents in Obama Claus's bag come from? Do elves in the North Pole make them, or are they extracted from the peasantry? Are the "rich" the reindeer harnessed to this Santa's sleigh? With the energy expended in pulling it, is there any left over for creating wealth and generating jobs?
The spirit of human kindness does not drive us to larceny, regimentation and destruction of the economy.
Symbols are important – cupid for love, the flag for loyalty – though the virtues they represent exist independently.
It's nice to have a merry old fellow with a twinkle in his eye to personify kindness and the urge to give – especially at a time of the year that represents sharing for so many. The warmth of the ideal penetrates even the cold and dark of the season.
Newspaperman Francis Pharcellus Church had it right in an 1897 editorial answer to little Virginia O'Hanlon. "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He lives as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist."
He lives in all of us, if we connect with him. When you put change in a Salvation Army kettle, when you donate to a food bank, when you volunteer for a charity, when you spend time with a child, when you try to sooth a troubled spirit, when you reach out to a stranger – you are Santa Claus.
This Santa can do anything – even overcome bureaucratic inanity, racial grievances and politically correct penguins.
Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website, DonFeder.com.
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