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Outing Santa

santaI wasn’t going to write this article.  Last year I wrote about De:Santafying Christmas which led to some interesting comments, both written and verbal.  Thus, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write another Christmas article that dealt with approaches to Santa Claus.  Then lo and behold an article from The Guardian made its rounds on Facebook.  It spoke of an English vicar who reportedly told a school full of children that Santa was not real.  Obviously, outrage erupted over this.

I am not going to argue whether Father Tatton-Brown did the right thing.  Obviously, his remarks (even if chalked up to a technological error) were without tact and completely ill-timed.  While I commend him for trying to teach the children about the religious understanding of the holiday, he did not have to mention that Santa Claus was a myth.  There are ways to talk about Christmas without actually mentioning Santa Claus; believe me, I do it all the time.  Surely there was a better way to handle speaking about Saint Nicholas without outing Santa Claus as a figment of imagination.

Yet what disturbs me about this article, and in truth what disturbs me about the whole dynamic of a Santa-focused Holiday, is the complaint that in some manner Tatton-Brown ‘ruined Christmas.’  The suggestion is made that his comments horrifyingly destroyed the Christmas celebrations for all the children who listened to him.  The title of the article says as much: “Pupils’ Christmas ‘ruined’ by vicar’s Santa Claus origins story.”   One of the most sensationalist lines in the article reads “Some parents threatened to pull their children out of a Christmas concert at his church, St Andrew’s, in protest, arguing that they would not barge into one of his services and announce that the story of Jesus was a fiction.”

Seriously, Does the vicar’s remark merit protest?  What is more, are you actually suggesting that denouncing Jesus in a church is on par with speaking about how Santa is based on legend?  Frankly, I find it atrocious that some would hint that the removal of Santa  ‘ruins’ the celebration of Christmas, but the removal of Jesus does not?  Also, when did the historicity of Saint Nicholas simply become an ‘origin story’?

Now I get that these parents are upset, and they have every right to be.  But honestly, is Christmas actually ruined because someone told your child that Santa does not exist?  Maybe it is because people both inside and outside the church have charged my wife and I with this very thing, but I have a hard time believing this to be the case.

After all, if the non-belief in Santa Claus ruins Christmas for all the children of the world, then surely you still believe in flying reindeer, magical elves and a jolly fat man who lives in the north pole – right?  If a child’s non-belief in Santa is that which will perpetually ruin the celebration of Christmas, then surely that means that each parent spoken of in this article never intended to ever tell their children the truth about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth Fairy, Cinderella, or Fairy God-mothers.

Totten-Brown’s remarks did not ruin Christmas any more than realizing that the guy in the mall is not the ‘real’ Santa means that he ruined Christmas.  Let’s not over-dramatize this.

Because here’s how I see it; A Christmas which is focused on presents does not rely on the existence of Santa.  When that first glittery box is placed before that child, they will forget all about the vicar’s remarks, if they haven’t already.  They will, just as they always do, gush over all the wrapped boxes that they see under the tree.  They will still be happy about the presents that they received, and disappointed over the presents that they did not.  Come Christmas morning, the existence or non-existence of Santa won’t matter one little bit.

So if it is true that Christmas is not ruined,  the question then becomes, what is the source of all the ire and vengeance that would make some parents cry for protest.  What is the reason to circulate the article with captions like ‘I’m glad he’s not my priest’ and ‘stupid old man’.  What exactly are we crying over?  Because I have a feeling it’s not about defending the innocence of our children, or protecting their understanding of Christmas.  Perhaps all our anger over the vicar’s words is not actually about the children at all, but about ourselves.  Perhaps it is about ourselves being confronted with some of the lies too easily bought into; perhaps it is about seeing our willingness to usurp the celebration of our Lord’s birth with the worship of products and merchandise. Perhaps it’s simply easier to demonize someone who tactlessly points to that which is real, then recognize how we sometimes so vehemently defend that which is not.

Perhaps the vicar’s words didn’t ruin something for our children.  Perhaps it ruined something for us. . . .and maybe that’s a good thing.

I invite your comments…

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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6 Responses to Outing Santa

  1. A great article. Interesting that some parents think that their 6 year olds read blogs like this if the writer endured some heat last year. Kind of proves his point. Well done.

  2. They got rid of Jesus in Christmas so why not Santa he is secondary.

  3. Hi Kyle
    As always a well thought out piece. I found it interesting that through the entire article I found myself thinking, “I wouldn’t argue it that way.” or “There are other ways to look at this.” But then I came to your last two paragraphs and even though we might take a different route to get there, I 100 per cent agree with your conclusion. A Blessed, Happy and Holy Christmas to you!!

  4. Kyle Norman

    Thanks for the encouragement Keith and Alan.

    Blessings to you both this Christmas time.

  5. Kyle, your boldness to connect the phrase “LIES too easily bought into” with crankiness over dispelling the Santa fantasy startled me enough to prompt reflection on your hint that this may be symptomatic of a deeper cultural malaise. So here goes.
    At Disneyland the sign said “The Happiest Place On Earth”, and I had a sudden insight into American culture: We don’t expect to be very happy unless we inhabit fantasy realms! Western culture’s various disappointments (disenchantments?) (with colonialism, with the world peace process and recently with science and technology etc), have produced a despair from which we escape into assorted fantasies and distractions. (See Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”)
    Influenced by naturalism and secularism but yearning for “spirituality”, parents want to give children what they themselves can no longer have: a sense that the cosmos is enchanted. Being deprived of that opportunity makes them grumpy. The irony is that while Santa as a deliberate fantasy is embraced for this purpose, the possibility of a real transcendent God pouring grace into the real world through a real person such as Nicholas of Smyrna is TOO “fantastic”. Unless we also make belief in Jesus a fantasy on par with belief in Santa (as Guardian article illustrates).
    Western culture is so spiritually immature that it conflates ignorance with innocence, gullibility with childlike faith, and pretence with imagination and vision. If the former are challenged there is resentment as if the latter were being attacked.
    So I am not rejecting imagination (we need it more than ever, but we use it to creatively face reality not flee from it). Far from “spoiling Christmas” finding the origins of Santa in Nicholas (which I am guessing was Canon Tatton-Brown’s motivation) and then IMAGINING how to emulate his godly example in our own generation seems exactly the way to transform a pop culture distraction into genuine world changing hope. But perhaps only if we are ready for the Real Magic of Christmas.

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