The Philosophy Behind the Myth
This essay on the same topic just dropped from one of my favorite substacks. The Free Press by Bari Weiss
Dear MW – Great piece! I love that you did a deep dive into older traditions. I find it fascinating. My take on what Christmas has become in the US: the retailer’s wet dream. They start pushing Christmas in October. It is like Thanksgiving and Christmas get conglomerated in this big nebulous thing called “The Holiday Season.” Without Christmas binge-buying, some retailers would not make it. I am not seeing nearly as much crowding at department stores like Macy’s. I guess online shopping has replaced the real-life experience. But stores like Sephora and Ulta market Christmas themed stocking-stuffer “mini gifts” with a vengeance.
“Interestingly enough, I propose it leaves us with an understanding that Santa is also a Christ-type figure of a benevolent man who judges naughty and nice”
Wow, you hit the nail on the head. How many parents gaslight their kids with: “Santa is not coming to our house unless you finish your broccoli.” I find this surreal. Don’t we want kids to be able to distinguish between real and made-up? Kids associate Christmas with time off from school and “getting lots of stuff.” And for wealthier kids – cool trips to Cabo or Vail. More importantly, children from under-served families endure the shame of getting less stuff than other kids and feeling less-than because of it. I agree that “Santa gifts” are batshit. Also, think of the incongruity of telling kids a big fat weirdo is going to break into the house by way of the chimney. Leave him cookies and milk? He’s had enough. Santa might be a compulsive eater. Take one look at Mrs. Claus – this might explain it.
The Elf on the Shelf is another made-up, oppressive, nonsense gimmick. Stores make big bucks selling the elves. Now Santa has a helper in the “spy on your kids” department. He moves locations in the house periodically just to make sure the surveillance state is intact. I know I sound cynical but as a kid I LOVED Christmas. I would sit and stare at the lighted Christmas tree for hours, like I was stoned. When I was a munchkin – I believed Christmas was about love and expressing love through giving stuff to people. I would wrap presents with a deep focus, and I always wanted each gift to look completely different. I could never use the same bow or wrapping paper twice. My OCD-type behavior started early. I don’t necessarily think this is bad, except that I wish I had not associated love with material objects. I guess I thought if I gave people presents, they would love me more.
I am a devoted bargain-hunter. The deal is – hit the after-Christmas sales to get gifts for next Christmas. You can save a fortune. However, I am aware that being dollar-holders make ALL people living in the US privileged. Someone is paying the price for our bargains, and they live in low-income countries.
Thanks for a thought-provoking article.