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Santa is the Man

Well, the city is blanketed in an unusual amount of snow, and Christmas is certainly in the air. This morning I was off to see the always interesting children’s school Christmas concert. I tend to approach these events with a high degree of curiosity—especially in our post-Christian context. What organizational gymnastics, I wonder, will the organizers have to go through to present a non-offensive, politically correct program for the many and varied attendees that will be present yet at the same time say something remotely significant that honours the season? I genuinely feel for those who have to organize these things. It can’t be easy.

My expectations of the content are usually fairly low, truth be told. I expect to see some rather banal theme involving a fairly heavy dose of the decidedly un-religious Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and a collection of other non-threatening characters who will, collectively, deliver some safe non-religious message that we can all feel good about. Part of me is sad that schools have to tiptoe around issues of religious neutrality and political correctness at this time of year, but I understand it and am mostly content to watch my kids join in the fun.

This year, however, was a little different than I expected. Santa & co. still made their obligatory appearances, but with a bit of a twist. It seems that Santa was getting a little fed up with the greed and acquisitiveness of some rather demanding children, and threatened to pull the plug on Christmas. What ended up saving the day was the kids discovering that Christmas was not about getting more of what we don’t need, but about sharing with those in need and spending time with family. Not bad, I thought. For a public school Christmas concert? Not bad at all.

What was interesting (at least to me) was the source of this discovery. Who was responsible for this benevolent insight that Christmas was about meeting the needs of the poor, being content with what we have, etc? Why, Santa himself of course! The climax of the play was when one particularly greedy child was asked, by Santa, how many toys he had. Upon hearing the wrong answer, Santa responded by giving him the correct (much higher) number and informing him that “Christmas is not about getting what you want but getting what you need” (definition of the nature of said needs also fell, apparently, under the purview of the jolly man in red). Santa, it seems, has become both omniscient and the source of our Christmas conscience.

I’m undoubtedly subjecting an elementary school performance to an unwarranted degree of ideological scrutiny here (not for the first time), and this entire little piece is done with a proverbial tongue firmly in cheek, but it struck me as more than a little ironic that in a culture doing its best to excise any reference to divinity, there is still a perceived need for a larger-than-life, all-knowing conscience at this time of year. We still need a moral authority of some kind, and if God is no longer up to the task, or has been relieved of his Christmas duties, someone has to step into the void and meet the need. Well, if today’s performance is to be believed, that someone is Santa.

Santa’s lesson about the meaning of Christmas was followed by a rapturous final song called “Santa is the Man” where Santa received his due praise and adulation for reminding us that he sees and knows all and that he expects the appropriate moral conduct from those under his care. It was a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, anthemic number that would have made Freddy Mercury proud (I even started mumbling “We Will Rock You” around the fifteenth refrain of “Santa is the Man”)—a cacophony of joy and gratitude that Santa had exposed our moral weakness and that we had responded appropriately.

If nothing else, it was an interesting experience. And the overall message was a good one, regardless of what this Grinch made of its ideological underpinnings. Who knows what we can expect in years to come? Perhaps Santa will seize his new found moral authority and begin to demand that we stop cutting down trees for Christmas (maybe Santa has a green side to him?). Maybe we can expect a lesson on tolerance and political correctness next time around. What about gender equality? Racism? Maybe Santa could even help out our confused and wayward politicians in Ottawa! The sky is virtually the limit!

Santa is, after all, the man.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    My reactions to the school Santa program are the same as yours.

    I associate Santa more with love and kindness rather than with morality. Santa’s love is the kind that finds it hard to not forgive.

    The Santa portrayed in the program sounds something like a man of the enlightenment.

    December 20, 2008
    • Ironically, the characteristics you’ve referred to (love, kindness) probably fit pretty well with the original St. Nicholas, but not so much with today’s shopping mall version(s), I don’t think. Santa’s pretty flexible, I guess – he can go from being an engine behind Christmas over consumption to our morally enlightened cultural conscience, depending on the needs (and economic climate?) of the day!

      December 20, 2008
  2. mdaele #

    I say – stick it to the man!

    December 20, 2008
  3. Dave Chow #

    Hey Ryan,

    I believe in Father Christmas…see:

    You may like this little belated-Christmas treat.

    December 29, 2008
    • Thanks Dave. I can always count on you to find a way to bring U2 into any discussion!

      December 30, 2008

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