Santa Claus is a product
It’s that time of year again: lights bespatter the city, trees twinkle through living room windows, and creepily-animated reindeer light up lawns. Christmas songs are heard everywhere, and stores flash their gaudy exuberance for the season of “giving.” Standing in line to pay for your five-dollar package of batteries becomes an ordeal that would be sufficient to give the typical fast-food consuming Canadian a heart attack. Looming over this hustle and bustle, not to be forgotten, is that legendary jolly fat guy in the red suit.
Have you ever noticed how well Santa Claus makes capitalism family-friendly? It must have been no small feat to turn Saint Nicolas, whose generosity to the poor was said to have rescued three young women from a life of prostitution, into an overweight and highly commercial advocate for greed.
Today’s Santa Claus appears on television, banners, and garish thrones in malls to tell children they can, and should, have whatever they want and to make sure parents feel sufficient pressure to clear stores’ shelves for another holiday season. His warm, jovial character and nostalgic scenes of happiness bring families together and completely hides the fact that Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, Pepto Bismal, or whatever corporation, does not care about our holiday cheer; – our money is all that matters.
Today’s Santa Claus embodies capitalism perfectly: get more, get it now, and don’t dare to look past the bright colours and alluring sentiments to consider the consequences this lifestyle brings to the impoverished, the environment, and ultimately, to ourselves.
It could be just me, but I am pretty sure the phrase “the more, the merrier” was not referring to Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick shaking with laughter, reaching into his toy sack, and pulling out wonderful gadgets as though there was no actual cost involved, and encouraging us to behave the same by going into debt to make sure we have the newest and the best of everything. What is really important about this time of year? I can offer a solid hunch that it is not hip-checking your way to the sales counter at the last minute, swearing at the clerk who informs you that they’re sold out, and fantasizing about beating the little old lady taking up the whole aisle with her walker.
Maybe some things are more important than quantity – what a revolutionary idea. It is possible, however unlikely, that having the best Christmas ever does not revolve around having the best stuff. I like to hope society is not so far gone that we can admit what makes Christmas special is not the massive pile of gifts under the tree so much as the religious and relational aspects of the holiday. Santa Claus may appear left, right, and centre with his message of “more, more, more,” but what I would rather have more of is meaningful, quality time with those who matter. Call me old-fashioned, but I harbour hopes that our children may yet grow up to appreciate the little things and value people over stuff.
And before you feel bad for poor old Saint Nick, never worry; the major corporations and their incongruous, glamorous Santas will quite happily continue promoting greed, and more subtly, exploitation, with or without you. If we really resent capitalism as much as some of us claim to, maybe Christmas would be a good time to show some moderation in our consuming habits. I, for one, know that Santa Claus will get along just fine without me.