Copyright © December 1995, December 2006, R. Kossover
Writers note: This was written eleven years ago, when we still lived in St. Paul, MN. My younger boy, a strapping, tough bundle of muscle now, was all of four or five years old then. But even then, he was a remarkably patient listener.
I wrote this from the viewpoint of an American, a fellow who had finally succeeded in buying a nice house in a nice section of town, in a family where we both worked to raise our two sons. We live a very different life now in Ma'aleh Levona, Israel, and I have a very different perspective on the world from the mountains in Samaria than I did from the Mississippi River plain...
When my kindergartner came home with a paper reindeer named Rudolph, I realized it was time to tell him the truth about Santa Claus. Not the "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus," version. As inspiring as that article was in explaining the meaning of hope a century ago, that was not the truth he needed to understand. He needed to somehow comprehend the reason for the omnipresence of the jolly fellow.
I started with the legend of Saint Nicholas. You know, the guy who supposedly lived in Turkey some 1,500 years ago who got the reputation for tossing gold into the windows of poor people. That Saint Nicholas. I pointed out that the story of this man was a very popular one that was repeated in many countries by many people - and got quickly to the Dutch “Sinkt Niklaas”.
Having studied linguistics myself, I couldn't resist comparing the pronunciation of Sinkt Niklaas to Santa Claus, and the comparison seemed to turn on a light in my boy's head. Then I got to the meat of the story.
First I explained as well as I could that a commercial is an attempt to make us spend our money on something. After I thought I got that point across, I had to explain what stores do - that is to say that they sell merchandise - and that they use commercials to get people to buy their merchandise. Finally, I had to point out that if stores could not sell their merchandise, the owners would not be able to pay their bills, and they would lose their homes and have to sleep in the streets. Naturally, I also pointed out that the people who work in the stores would lose their jobs, and then they wouldn't be able to pay their bills and that they would also have to sleep in the streets. But, you know how five year olds are. You can't dwell on details too much.
Then I told my son how big department store owners some hundred and fifty years saw how they could make a fortune of money. They turned the Dutch Sinkt Niklaas - a wisp of a legend with a beard and long pipe who was not averse to dropping coal into someone's stocking - into Santa Claus, the jolly provider of gifts for all children. And why did they do this? So that the parents would have to fulfill their children's' expectations of gifts mysteriously coming into the house by Christmas morning. Santa Claus, I told my boy, was the biggest and best commercial ever invented in the last 150 years.
I told my son how parents go crazy trying to buy gifts for their children, their friends, and their families. How they go into debt spending money they don't have to buy those gifts and throw parties. And then I explained how unhappy these people are after the holidays as they face the mountain of debt they've created for themselves.
At that point, my son lost interest. How long could I expect a five year old to sit still for an explanation? So, I let him go off and play.
But I realized how glad I am that we don't participate in the Christmas madness: How glad I am that we don't have to go to stores where people push past each other to purchase products and lose their good graces doing so, because there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all and live their lives, too. I realized how glad I am that I don't mutter "peace and goodwill to all" like a mantra and then oppose the one thing that we could do to further peace in the world - sending troops to Bosnia Hercegovina to somehow enforce an agreement that would end a war [this was written at the time that Serbia and Croatia were actively involved in fighting over Bosnia Hercegovina - RK]. I realized how little I like companies that pay Christmas bonuses to their executives which are keyed to their ability to put loyal employees out of work. I realized just how grateful I am that we are not Christians.
Not to knock Christianity. It's like any other religion, an attempt to square our mortal lives with the immortal forces arrayed against us. But, if I were a Christian, I'd be infuriated with what big business in America had done to my religion and concepts of what is right, wrong, just and equitable.
But, my only obligation is to my son - to make sure he understands what is in those sweet commercials with Santa Claus in them, so that he never has to get caught up in Christmas madness himself.