Rob Landley (landley) wrote,
Rob Landley
landley

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Which religion is Santa Claus the god of?

Something I wrote last year, but never posted...

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Personally, I consider Santa (and frosty, rudolph, the elves, scrooge, etc) to be a separate pantheon. Zeus had Mt. Olympus, Santa has the north pole. The sacrifices (milk and cookies) are pretty benign. The altar's a tree (gilded with tinsel and lights and colored balls). The vestments are red suits, white beards, and green elf costumes. The collection plate's a kettle. The confessional is at your local shopping mall where Santa Incarnate sits on his throne in front of a long line of supplicants. (The priesthood here is very very part time, but every parent gets in on the act so it works out.) And the hymns (jingle bells, frosty the snowman, rudolph the red nosed reindeer, I'm dreaming of a white christmas, let it snow, santa claus is coming to town, here comes santa claus, and many more) are quiet catchy and singable. There are even participatory rituals (caroling, candy canes, hang your stocking)...

Does Santa have godlike powers? He flies through the air with magic reindeer to visit millions of houses in a single night and distribute thousands of tons of presents. It's all based on a "naughty and nice" list that every spy agency on the planet, working together, couldn't compile.

And yes, Santa's an omniscient enforcer of morality. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good... Although he's more a positive reinforcement type rather than fire or brimstone, so he'll just give you coal in your stocking if you've been bad rather than condemning you to eternal fiery torment.

And when you're a kid there's plenty of evidence for Santa. You see Santa in the mall, in the thanksgiving parade, on television and in movies. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. The history goes back hundreds of years, and you even get real presents, under your tree, showing up on Christmas morning saying they come from Santa! The whole society, from major institutions to your own parents, conspires to perpetuate the Santa Mythos. Everywhere you turn, people tell you about Santa! And how good he is, and generous, and kind. Your classmates may doubt, but they have no _proof_ he doesn't exist, and if you don't believe will you still get the presents? The reindeer have names!

As with all religions, the message that's repeated, over and over, is "believe". Santa Claus _is_ Coming To Town. Long before the Polar Express's magic bell, you had to learn from Scrooge's experience and keep christmas in your heart. The little girl in Miracle on 34th street, "I believe, I believe, it's silly
but I believe" and bang she got her house, because true believers are rewarded.

Eventually, your parents come clean about the whole Santa thing. It's part of growing up. And it can be a valuable learning experience in critical thinking, parental fallability (if not outright deception), and the ease of self-deception. Learning that with enough external reinforcement, you can talk yourself into almost anything no matter how silly it sounds. And that people who have your best interests at heart can not only be wrong, will not only suppress their own doubts, but will knowingly _lie_ to you "for your own good"... That's a valuable life lesson, that is.

Each of us can firmly believe things that turn out to be wrong. This doesn't mean we were stupid, it means that when literally millions of people participate in a vast (if well-intentioned) conspiracy to maintain an edifice of belief based on deception, it is easy to be fooled. And it can be hard to make your own choices and have the courage of your convictions when you're so obviously swimming against the tide. Belief is not the same as truth. "Are you sure?" is not the same question as "Are you right?"

Does all this mean that Santa is a less valid pantheon than the "official" one? Why would it be? The same parents who taught you about Jesus (walking on water, turning water into wine, bringing Lazarus back from the dead, loaves and fishes, virgin birth) and the corresponding pantheon (father/son/holy ghost, angels, saints, etc) taught you about Santa. Generally at about the same age.

No, comparing their validity or relative merit is left as an exercise for the reader. Comparing Santa and Jesus side by side and asking "Ok, now, which one seems more plausible?" That's frowned on in our society. Especially with "faith based reasoning" holding high political office. (And admittedly, each one is said to be based on a historical figure...)
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