As a (half) Jew, I pity poor St. Nick. These thing my colleagues are calling him–the fat pagan stealing cookies, the superstar holiday perv-lush who forces children to adore him–these are not his fault. These are our fault.
Yes, I’m going to point the finger right back at Jews, along with Gentiles. The only reason Santa Claus has grown so obese and indolent is that America has become a deranged post-consumption society, where every emotion can be invoked or evaded by one form of purchase or another.
It’s nothing new to say that Christmas has become commercialized, but can we Jews really complain that this is being foisted upon us? Think about the places over the last century where Santa, children and greed became fused into the single cultural unit they are today: beyond the (many) places run by Gentiles, you have to count the foundational department stores named after the Jews who ran them: Gimbel, Magnin, Kaufmann, Saks, and May. And then there are all those Jews who wrote lovely Christmas songs. So you can’t single Jews out, but the corpulent, powermad Santa Claus we know today is a product of American enterprise, and Jews are an integral part of that enterprise, so I think we should cool down the kvetch.
And, now that I’m done slagging my (chosen) people, let me do one worse and praise, umm, German Catholics. Yes, they gave the world Emperor Palpatine Cardinal Ratzinger, but they don’t have nearly as many of those hardcore rightwing wafer-deniers as we do here in the U.S. And this latest suggestion from the Bonifatiuswerk charity group based in Paderborn is a real mitzvah. According to the Telegraph:
The Bonifatiuswerk of German Catholics – a church aid organisation – has begun calling for “Santa Claus-free zones.”
The organisation sees Santa as “an invention of the advertising industry designed to boost sales” and as “a representative of consumer society who has little to do with the historical figure of St Nicolas.”
Because of his linkage with commercialism the group says he should be banished and replaced with the more charitable, and traditional, St Nicolas.
St Nicolas, the patron saint of children, is described on the group’s website as “a helper in need who reminds us to be kind, to think of our neighbours, and to give the gift of happiness.”
It’s all part of Germany’s own struggle with gluttony. My favorite story from a friend of mine over there was about the origin of Advent Calendars. The calendars these days are a series of doors, one for each day from Dec. 1 to Christmas, each door with a treat–usually a piece of chocolate–behind it. In other words, a perfect kid item. But apparently, in the more impoverished days of Germanity, the real advent calendar was a series of chalk marks on the wall. Just mark each day, like a prisoner counting out his sentence, until Christmas. One Dec. 6, you’d get a visit from St. Nick, who came under a few different ridiculous pseudonyms–Aschenmann, Bartl, Boozenickel, Hans Trapp, Klaubauf, Pelznickel, Ruhklas, Schmutzli–and arrived with little gnomic thugs with names like Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus (depending where you live), who threatened you with a stick.
All that terror would lead up to the final day, Christmas, on which you might get your present: an orange.
Now think about it, Jews. Our Chanukah is much closer to this older version of Christmas than it is to America’s current Christmas. And that’s kind of a great thing. Our traditions are a little intense, about war and redemption (and possibly, as I argued yesterday, circumcision). The meals are humble. The focus is storytelling, something that kids love almost as much as chocolate. Let Christmas slide off the cliff of insanity. In the end, it makes everyone else look more reasonable.