ONE of the myths goes that today’s Santa Claus dons the corporate colors of a softdrink company. Another says that all his accoutrements of bells, sleigh and reindeers emerged in the 1800s—when the way to go to Manhattan was on a sleigh.
A newspaper editorial once responded to an eight-year-old letter sender who asked if Santa truly existed. Yes, said the New York Sun editorial, he does, as true as all goodness that persists in humanity. “Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world,” the Sun said.
Generations of us were mesmerized by fantasy scenes of Santa’s underground world where workers labor double-time in assembly lines, packing gifts to be sent out in bulks via Santa’s own “Ho-ho-Move,” to pun a mover firm. An angry “Grandpa Scrooge” in the US ranted about a non-existent Santa, igniting memes of kids pressing their faces on store windows, looking at toys from afar. These distortions of the Santa image reveal the dominant commercialism attached to the jolly old fellow.
Proteans as we are, we interpret Santa in a multitude of ways to humor our good selves. The character has been a composite picture of whatever tale best serves our interests and imagination—to each his or her own Santa. The enterprising among us would slip a box or two into the pillow of a sleeping child, and tell the tale of a sneaky Santa out on a graveyard shift.
Never to be missed in the storytelling is the version that Santa takes inspiration from Saint Nicholas, the 4th-century Christian bishop who saved impoverished girls from a dismal fate. One saint who wished to make poverty history among many.
Whatever, it would have been easier to bend the Santa tale whichever way had the times been friendlier. The pandemic has clouded that part of us that sees the world through a child’s eye.
Imagine the financial losses during lockdowns, the resulting unemployment, deaths of loved ones, natural disasters, extrajudicial killings, warrantless arrests, and all the sad tales that simply render any mindless optimism seem obscene.
Where in heaven is Santa these days?
The health crisis we suppose had pared down our lives to a semblance of what should be fundamental to being human—family, friendship, and all the essentials somewhere in Maslow’s hierarchy.
We can start animating our own assembly lines, double-time, packing only the intangible gestures of kindness and love and dump the bulk to the ones near us—to share the heft of laughter, the lightness of a smile, the oftentimes underrated importance of pouring a good word or two to a loved one’s ear.
Where is Santa? Nah, look for your own merry, good selves.