Forgiving Santa, in three notes (3)

3. So, I’ve explained that painful family experiences left me wholly unconnected to the supposed joys of the holiday season or the stories told as part of it.

However that doesn’t necessarily mean that those stories serve no beneficial function for those fortunate enough to be able to participate in them. To the contrary.

Collective fiction-making is an ubiquitous phenomenon, particularly because we often think that all we’re engaging in is small-talk, or gossip, or social commentary, or politics. But most of the stories we tell about ‘common knowledge’ is really a patchwork of assumptions, presumptions, guess-work, intuition, unrecognized prejudice, ‘common sense,’ and faith in the sources of information deemed trustworthy in a given culture. And it is usually, if not entirely not entirely false, then certainly not entirely true. (The cult of celebrity – whether celebrity actor or celebrity gangster – is really the fascination for stories concerning what cannot be fully be known, and people who cannot really exist, even should the cult object still be living.)

So it is actually a good thing – and a necessary and inevitable part of social discourse – that there are stories we collectively collaborate on, either for our children or for ourselves, that are open and notorious fictions.

It is said that there are people who still believe that Sherlock Holmes was an existent individual – but I have my doubts. Just because writes a letter to Holmes, and mails it to ‘221B Baker Street, London,’ does not mean that they actually believe Holmes exists; rather, it suggests that they are passionate (or highly amused) in their desire to contribute to the continuing construction of the Holmes fictional narrative.

It is hard to say when a collective narrative passes outside of the realm of myth (which are never myth in their own cultures, since they are sincerely believed), and enters into the realm of conscious collective fiction-making. Having cause occasionally to read up on the Coyote stories of Native Americans over the past few decades, I have always been struck by the fact that, while Coyote is used for a great many stories, he doesn’t actually fulfill much of a truly religious function. Parents use Coyote to prepare children for the difficulties they may face in life, but when those difficulties actually appear, they refer to other spirits and rituals unrelated to Coyote, in order to deal with them.

The Santa Claus story, as we have had it develop over the past two hundred years, has its problems – not in constricting critical think (on the contrary, I agree that it overs a moment of right-of-passage to critical thought when children realize its fictionality), but in its crass commercialization and indoctrination into consumerism. But American capitalism being what it is, its hard to find anything in this culture that doesn’t indoctrinate, or at least support, consumerism.

But beyond ongoing social benefits, it should be remembered that the modern Santa story developed in the early 19th century, when the lives of the majority of children in urban settings was truly horrific. Among the working class, they worked 16 hour days (beaten when they were tired), or ended up living in streets with open sewers, begging, whoring, or stealing to live. Their life expectancy was 25 years. Among the middle class, life was materially easier, but children were still considered property, and (often vicious) corporal punishment an expected norm.

The Santa Claus story helped normalize the sense that children were precious, that they were to be cherished and cared for, that a special time of the year could be set aside for them; that their hopes and aspirations could be endorsed and encouraged.

I personally hate Christmas – I hate Santa Claus; he can be used as a signifier for parental oppression.

But that was not always, and is not generally, his story.

Santa – I forgive you.


One thought on “Forgiving Santa, in three notes (3)

  1. “The real question is why we make such a fuss over it, one way or another. What is the emotional or psychological investment here?”

    My subjective observation: Human emotional/intellectual/sacred identity is formed/bound-up (religio–to bind) in the social group. Why sacred? To sacralize is to kill and eat. Survival.–_QrsLJAhUGRSYKHc79BhMQ6AEIKzAF#v=onepage&q=sacralization%20of%20victim&f=false

    Individuals/mavericks/rebels, etc. emerge from the violent primitive social group, and may influence the future social group (leaders versus sycophantic followers). Evolution of social group.

    While Yahweh (insert name of correct God) may not need to snort animal/human holocaust (burnt) offering cocaine to survive (although He likes the smell), there are (supposedly) profound lessons for His humus homunculus creation. The tribe needs steak however, or they starve (painfully). End-game: the social group survives and gives humble (mostly) thanks to the ineffable silent universe personified (looks like us=God). Happy belated Thanksgiving to all by the way.

    Social group=insiders. Those without are outsiders (profane). This leads to voyages of trade exploration/military conflict and (fast-forward) humanity is trying to prevent total annihilation today while it prepares for same (paradox). Origins are not fully known around cultures dead, buried, and dug up for Indiana Jones adventures, so scholarly debate uses its best efforts in interpreting past fragmentary puzzle pieces/ruins/tombs/monuments. Surviving social groups are available for anthropological observation however (whether process is imperialist/racist or not):

    Our ancestors that were not alpha male Homo Necans were all naked and afraid. Alpha males become kings and nation founders. The social group survives (fast forward) and grows into civilization/imperialism (I impose my will on you). Subjects are removed from act of killing to survive. Some are freed from labor to think. The memory of survival survives socially, albeit far removed from its hard originary source. It becomes soft. Santa Claus is soft.

    People stop killing/eating/sacrificing (Saturn/Kronos quite unthinkable today, eh?) and abusing their children (mostly):

    The church/state social group is dominant historically (evolutionary survivor). Theocracy evolves in the West – it separates (through violence of course). Priestly confession gives way to psychology (conversation as cure) and physical medicine as successful alternative forms of pain-relief.

    Recollection of the past Guilt/Redemption/Salvation (can a person change) story becomes softer, however the power of those ideas remain. Santa Claus represents successful culture that does not abuse their children (mostly). We give them merchandise gifts if we can afford it. Instead of a snake.

    In the interior of my cold dark cynical heart (ha!), there exists a warm center. Santa fiction represents that for many people (perhaps). They don’t believe He’s real. For those that don’t abuse their children, they participate in their culture’s tradition and try using their best efforts to give their children the fruit of their labor. He’s a symbolic representation of their inner good (subjective) wishful hopeful thinking. For the superficial and ungrateful, well, … Santa’s curse be upon them (ha!). Actually Santa is kind of creepy from a surveillance perspective (he knows if you have been bad or good, … how?)

    From wishful thinking do-good-to-children redemption story perspective, Art Carney’s Drunk Santa Claus Twilight Zone Speech expresses it well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s