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Commentary: What To Do About Santa?

By Matthew Broyles, KERA Commentator

Dallas, TX –

So: Santa. The big red guy. The jolly magistrate of naughty and nice, whose round, velveteen posterior squeezes down the chimneys of hopeful children year after magical year. What to do about Santa?

My son is only two this year, and not really old enough to grasp the many myths that go swirling around in our culture. But that will soon change, and soon he will be confronted, probably angrily, by other children who want to know: So why don't you believe in Santa?

The Santa thing is controversial, and where you fall on the subject doesn't seem to be hooked to religion. The anti-Santa camps I've come across are just as likely to be Christians as atheists, since Santa himself is a crude mishmash of ecclesiastic and pagan traditions, stuck in a 20th-century mangler and spat through a marketing pie chart into a Macy's display window. By all rights, Santa should have nothing to do with Christmas anyway. And yet, he is the holiday's most recognizable spokesman, and can hardly be ignored, particularly if you are a child.

I realize that this dilemma is my fault. Any arguments my son gets into at school will be because his old man just couldn't bring himself - with a straight face - to tell his kid a story about a magic fat man who distributes gifts to obedient children. It's a failure of fortitude on my part, and it's a shame, because it will not be me who receives the backlash from angry kids at the schoolyard. But I simply can't do it.

It's not that the kid won't get presents. He'll get just as much loot from his parents as he would have if we were playing the Santa game, he'll just know that it was purchased at a store by human beings who love him very much.

And that's the thing, isn't it? Why start out life with a deficiency in critical thinking because you don't want to think about why Santa would give the big fancy playset to your friend Tommy and not to you? Why spend your nights pondering how that bratty kid down the street didn't get a 10-pound lump of coal in his stocking, if Santa knows all and sees all, for Pete's sake? Why go through all that if you don't have to?

There could be a counter-argument that pain will be inflicted anyway, since every kid around you will think you're either nuts, stupid, or just evil for not believing in Santa. It may not be that satisfying to deliver the I-told-you-so speech when they all grow out of it, and indeed, that might cause them to hate you even more.

I was wringing my hands about this the other day while visiting a Jewish friend of mine, and he just laughed. "I always thought you Santa kids were crazy anyway," he said. He recalled that sure, he'd gotten into some arguments on the subject, but as there simply was no Jewish Santa Claus, everyone had to throw their hands up at some point and go back to swinging on the monkey bars.

It seems I do have to keep some perspective. Of all the arguments my son will have with other kids as he grows up, I doubt that the one about Santa will be the most important. As a child, I had arguments with friends that covered racism, sexism, honesty, gender roles, and sexual identity, to name but a few. Sure, the magic fat man loomed large, but as they say, Christmas only comes once a year.

So from now on, I'm going to content myself with the hope that the Santa debate, when it comes up for my son, will be short and relatively painless. And much less important than "what's in the box, Dad?"

Matthew Broyles is a writer and musician living in Dallas.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.