Except in East Syracuse, where they
have to wait a little longer, at least until school is out. It seems
that the good people entrusted with the education of the children of
the East Syracuse-Minoa School District have decided that the students
shouldn’t have any exposure to the jolly old elf during the school day.
With all that goes on in schools these days, how is it possible that a
group of adults have the time to consider the deleterious effects of
Santa Claus on childhood?
I can understand the objection of
anyone who does not want a religious figure intruding into the
classroom, especially a figure representing a religion once dedicated
to obliterating the cultures of others in order to save their souls.
But Santa Claus has as much to do with the Christian story of Christmas
as the Easter Bunny has to do with the religious version of Easter.
Santa is a cultural icon, like Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan or
Tiger Woods (oops).
You can trace the history of St. Nick
back to a fourth-century bishop in the Bosporus, but it is fair to say
that by now his cultural identity has mutated enough to make him safe
for children of all faiths. Did you know that Saint Nicholas is also
known as the patron saint of pawnbrokers? In today’s culture Santa
Claus operates mostly as a television pitchman, heavily favored by
advertisers. He has enormous name recognition, commands no licensing
fees, and his face is everywhere this time of year, putting him almost
on a par with Billy Fuccillo.
If anyone should be upset about this
character whose function is to train the next generation of children to
be mindless, relentless consumers, my guess is it would be aspiring
Christians. Santa Claus no longer belongs to one culture or one
religion. Sometimes a guy in a red suit who plays with elves, as Freud
famously did not say, is just, well, an out-of-work actor. In America’s
melting pot, Santa Claus is a genuine metro-cultural male.
If you still insist that Santa is a
solely a Christian symbol, you definitely must check out the E Street
Band doing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” live. That’s so naughty it’s
I think it’s time we got over the
hypersensitivity to sharing our own cultural experiences in mixed
company. The culture war that flares up at this time of year over how
to greet one another has gotten stale and unproductive. “Happy
Holidays” has gotten very tiring and doesn’t really say much. It has
all the power of “Would you like fries with that?” although it is
undoubtedly less fattening. We all half-heartedly mutter “Happy
Holidays” to one another as we leave parties or scoot past each other
on the sidewalk. We send cards that say “Season’s Greetings” and, truth
be told, it doesn’t satisfy much.
No one can actually say “Happy
Holidays” with any real feeling, because none of us grew up celebrating
“holidays.” Most of us grew up celebrating a specific holiday, with
specific rituals, and specific foods, and specific music to go along
with it. We had our families and friends along, and memories were
stitched into our minds and our hearts. There’s no reason we should
have to hide the joy that recalling, reliving and passing on those
holiday traditions brings us.
When I say Merry Christmas to you,
don’t take it as a whispered hint of my desire for a renewal of the
Crusades, and continuation of millennia of domination by European-based
monotheists. Think of it as me saying that I wish for you the joy that
Christmas past and present brings to me.
And if you wish me a Happy Hannukah, I
will not think you are trying to alter my heritage and mess with my
already cluttered calendar (eight nights in a row—wow!) but will
instead take you at your word—that you are wishing me happiness.
(However, if you wish me a Happy Festivus, I will just assume you have
been watching too many Seinfeld reruns and suggest that you get a life.)
If I do not send you a Kwanzaa card,
that’s just because I have not grasped what that particular celebration
means to you. So, please enlighten me, and share your wishes. If I fail
to notice the Solstice, it’s not for lack of respect for your
celebration, it’s because I grew up in a city where it’s so bright you
can miss a full moon. Help me partake in your joy, and I’ll be uplifted
and cheered if you share yours. Let’s make sure our celebrations are
joyous, neither offensive nor defensive. For once, it’s safe to say, it
really is, all good.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.