I was reading an article in the Daily Beast called “How Santa Hurts Christmas” when I was reminded of my mom.
In the article, the writer Candida Moss, talks about how Santa Claus has contributed to the commercialization of Christmas. But for me, one particular section stood out.
The point of the Santa Claus myth is to compel children to play nice, finish their greens, and go to bed early. Like the Politburo and Edward Cullen from Twilight, he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. This isn’t just a Draconian hangover from Victorian parenting. The enterprising folks at Elf on the Shelf have produced a stuffed toy that serves as Santa’s eyes and ears in your home. That should knock the snark out of the precocious six-year old who wonders exactly how Santa knows all.
The pay-off of North Pole espionage is supposed to be that good children get presents while bad children get coal in their stockings. If good old-fashioned fear of God or, shucks, actual parenting fail, there’s the threat of fossil fuels (value rising by the day) instead of gifts to deter misconduct.
Except it doesn’t work. Any five-year-old can see that rich naughty children are pulling down more than their fair share of the gifts. That’s if less affluent families can afford the luxury of purchasing gifts from a figment of the cultural imagination. When petulant rich kids get more presents than poorer angelic ones, it sends mixed messages. The historical St. Nicholas is said to have given money anonymously to poor children. The commercial Santa brings laptops to rich kids. What’s the lesson we’re teaching our children? Life’s not fair? The rules are different for rich people? Better learn the harsh realities of life early.
Born in 1924, my mother grew up the oldest of seven children in a poor Hispanic neighborhood in West Denver. Her father was a chef at the Brown Palace until he lost his legs in a train accident and they were plunged into poverty. There weren’t many services available to help people in need back then.
Mom told me that her mother didn’t want them to think they were bad because Santa didn’t bring them anything for Christmas. So she told them that Santa was just for the rich kids.
That makes me very sad.
I think my mom carried that message throughout her life. She’d talk about people who were “rich-rich.” I don’t think she ever felt like she was good enough. People with money would always get more, whether or not they deserve it, and that’s just the way it was.
I learned from my mother’s experience that it was important to value who people are and how they manifest that in the world more than what they have accumulated. Having lots of stuff doesn’t determine the goodness of a person any more than whether or not Santa brings them toys.
I’ve met some amazing, kind, compassionate and generous people in my life. Some with money; some without. What makes them remarkable is what they’ve done with what they have.
So tell me who you are. Tell me what you’re about, what you believe in, what you stand for. Tell me about the good things you’ve done to make the world a better place. Because in the end, that’s all that really counts.