Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Santa Claus's Political Affiliations (with Footnotes)"

There is no reason for this, but this is one of my favorite columns of all time, bar none.

I always wondered what Santa Claus’ political beliefs are, and yes, I know that’s weird. I figured it to be easy to work out what he believes by what he does. It wasn’t. It wasn’t even easy figuring out where he originally came from, but I did a little research and I think I may be a little closer to the answers.

Some say Santa Claus began as St. Nicholas, a Turkish priest and saint, who gave toys and candy to the yard apes of Asia Minor 1700 years ago. He was canonized and became very popular, becoming the patron saint of children, sailors, and several countries. When the Reformation swept Europe, those pesky Protestants made any celebration involving St. Nick illegal. As usual, the Dutch did their own thing and kept Sint Nikolass part of their festivities. When they came to America and snagged the last remaining parking spots in New Amsterdam, they brought a devotion to Sinterklass, as they called him here. When the Dutch were evicted in the 17th Century, their English landlords turned Sinterklass to Santa Claus.

Let’s see: Santa is Catholic, at least partly Dutch, and he settled in New York. He believes in giving gifts to everyone and he works with (ahem) a small minority. By golly, he’s a Blue Stater!

But, honestly, it’s not that simple. Mr. S. Claus is also a shining example of conservatism. He is pro-business and –industry* and it’s a no-brainer that the elves are not unionized. His current look – red-and-white suit, black boots and belt, sack full of toys – was actually created by a Southern corporation (Coca-Cola hired artist Haddon Sundblom to create Santas for advertisements from 1931 to 1964 – it’s his design that children today know). And Santa Claus is in a long-term heterosexual relationship with Mrs. Claus. He is a family value.

He could be an autocrat, the mythical “benevolent dictator” that has so long been debated. We don’t hear about a parliament of elves or that reindeer get to vote. In the same vein, the North Pole could be a theocracy. He is a saint after all, and the Vatican only has a pope.

But this only works if his Catholic origins are correct, which they almost certainly aren’t. No single piece of evidence exists to back the claim of St. Nicholas as a living person. What most folklorists believe is that St. Nicholas was a pagan god ‘christianized’ by the church and given some of the aspects of other pagan gods, like the Greek Poseidon and the Teutonic Hold Nickar. The Church commonly took pagan beliefs and folded them into Christianity, a habit they swiped from the pre-Christian Romans**. He’s not a real saint, so theocracy must be out.

He also can’t be a communist. True communists don’t believe in individual ownership and Comrade Claus certainly does. He can’t be a fascist or imperialist, either. Both require a tough military and a drive to expand. Any military that can use faster-than-light sleighs would have at least invaded Canada by now. I also doubt he’s a monarchist. He’d have to be a king or an emperor, and those types don’t let pee-soaked youngsters squat on their lap.

The North Pole could actually be socialist. Assuming that Santa is the government, he would own the factories (toyshop), means of transportation (reindeer), and the produce (goodies). He would also handle negotiating prices (free to good tots). Further backing a socialist claim is the fact that he lives in an extreme environment**** and must take care of his elves’ needs himself, since no medical insurers have yet opened up North Pole branches. There is also at least a hint of the redistribution of wealth in his ways. But it’s only a hint.

No, Santa is a capitalist. No one affects a fiscal year like old Kris Kringle. He is great for the economy and he puts money in the pockets of retailers, wholesalers, and producers. With the amount of money that changes hands because of him, his belief system cannot be denied. And he is a benevolent capitalist, a strong supporter of charities, and a believer in taking care of those who need help. He is a representation of everything good, not just economically but spiritually. True, he misses the homes of some Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist homes, but not all. Santa Claus has allowed Christmas to come into non-Christian homes and he himself does not insist on a particular belief to be held, to believe in him.

He is appreciated by those of a religious or spiritual nature, and by those who aren’t. He is a benevolent capitalist, doing what he can for those who need it, and for those who simply want it. He has some conservative elements, and some liberal elements. He is complex, nuanced, and not easy to categorize.

Just like a Planet Weekly reader. Merry Christmas to Mr. Claus and to the rest of our complex, nuanced, and hard-to-categorize readers.


* Of course, he’s also outsourced some of his work to Mattel, Hasbro, and Nintendo, but I suppose that’s part of his bottom-line conservatism.

** Yes, the Church swiped pagan beliefs, but pagan Romans swiped their entire pantheon of gods from the Greeks and renamed them, adding some lame deities like Janus, the God of Doors and Beginnings***, and Flora, the Goddess of Flowers.

*** But Janus is where we get “January,” so he is by default the God of New Year’s Eve. Let’s hoist a glass to mighty Janus!

****. Living in the extreme north means he is no vegan, either. Santa Claus is a meat eater. He and the elves must have much protein to survive. He also uses an endangered species as beasts of burden. This will bother none but the vegeterrorists of PETA. Santa snickers at your Tofurkey.

Next time, the Bipolar Santa will offer up his annual list of who’s been naughty and nice. I’ll take nominations at

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