The Logic of Father Christmas

Disguised in this seasonal stream, I came to meet with an obsessive bearded Marxist, wearing a loud red and which brought mankind into a sweet slavery, promising to all gifts “for free! Incredulous in such a gratuity, I went over to the library for the Father Christmas’ office record, ordering the bills of particulars for this suspicious personage.

The place and date of birth of Santa Claus is not clearly stated in his birth certificate: its conception in the womb of history seems to fluctuate from the Byzantine and warm Licia (St. Nicholas, the philanthropic of the fourth century A.D.) to the frozen Iceland (the voyager Odin with his eight horses flying in the time of the Nordic pagan celebration of Yule). The hyper-ecumenical religious and cultural mixture in which Santa Claus was born would make envious of any noisy activist of political correctness in our times. Legitimated in the collective archetype’s gallery with names as Pere Noel, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, etc.., Father Christmas has so many parents that I can easily understand his complex to act as grandfather/old man for so many children. Somewhere, in nature, there is a law of compensation!

The Elf (St. Nick as a dwarf – the draft version of the New Yorkers in the early nineteenth century) fought for supremacy for some time with the image of Old plump Santeclaus (inspired from a Dutch source and filtered in a specific North American way for the same period). Finally, the jury decided that a fattest old man is totally harmless for babies. What surprises me is that an old man’s desire to make gifts to children did not raise any signs of doubt for the virgin imagination at those times.

Finally, after such a troubled childhood, Father Christmas (which opens overturned the myth of eternal youth – to remain old for so many centuries!) takes on the consistency of its unexpected thrill of expectation through the chimney for children left to their own fantasies by parents too busy with all the gains of industrialization. Instant happiness for children with minimum effort, but maximum ideation tension – that is the perfect cocktail for the increasingly cozy parents! In this way the families ‘ affective relationships goes to the outsource services. And Coca-Cola was the first company that knew how to squeeze every bit of happiness of children’ dreams via parents pocket. Hence, had to pass only several decades of consumerist education to reach at spying the moment of filling socks, chromatic and noisiest dizziness of Christmas parades, safaris through the malls, photos with Santa, soppy letters, tracked by GPS to North Pole, etc. … Here is how the long arms of tummy’s satisfaction, translated into pompous trends and sales charts, have captured the intimate redoubts of innocent children’ imagination.

With the evolution and development of the Santa Claus story in the Western culture of the last two centuries, we can see the secularization process of soteriology. Stories give us something to believe: shopping! There it is not about Jesus Christ, the Son of God born for the salvation of humankind, but rather the story of a secular religiosity. This kind of profane religiosity is non-participating in non-religious sense of responsibility, but it is participative in the meaning of participatory social relations (the vanity of good intentions, shown especially at Christmas) and the meaning of self-salvation (the materialization of spirit).

Those who pooh-pooh the ability of advertising and of the mass media in general to condition people have failed to grasp the peculiar logic upon which the media’s efficacy reposes. For this is not a logic of propositions and proofs, but a logic of fables and of the willingness to go along with them. We do not believe in such fables, but we cleave to them nevertheless. Basically, the `demonstration’ of a product convinces no one, but it does serve to rationalize its purchase, which in any case either precedes or overwhelms all rational motives. Without `believing’ in the product, therefore, we believe in the advertising that tries to get us to believe in it. We are for all the world like children in their attitude towards Father Christmas. Children hardly ever wonder whether Father Christmas exists or not, and they certainly never look upon getting presents as an effect of which that existence is the cause: rather, their belief in Father Christmas is a rationalizing confabulation designed to extend earliest infancy’s miraculously gratifying relationship with the parents (and particularly with the mother) into a later stage of childhood. That miraculous relationship, though now in actuality past, is internalized in the form of a belief which is in effect an ideal extension of it. There is nothing artificial about the romance of Father Christmas, however, for it is based upon the shared interest that the two parties involved have in its preservation. Father Christmas himself is un-important here, and the child only believes in him precisely because of that basic lack of significance. What children are actually consuming through this figure, fiction or cover story (which in a sense they continue to believe in even after they have ceased to do so) is the action of a magical parental solicitude and the care taken by the parents to continue colluding with their children’s embrace of the fable. Christmas presents themselves serve merely to underwrite this compromise. (Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, Verso, New York, 1996, pp 167-168)

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