Is Santa Claus Dead?

 Essay by Art Rosengarten

            Over the winter holidays many are moved to press squeegee and sponge to the frosted windowsills of myth and magic.  These are shorter days when human energies by nature clutch less assuredly to the speedy wheels of modern living and hover instead before otherworldly anticipations, though often, not consciously so.  December’s evening air grows crisper in the grasp of the elfin toe-nipper Jack Frost, and Father Time, for his part, slows the seasonal fog of our minds with sickle and hourglass; even the dazzling, though treacherous, Snow Queen of the Danes (said to be beautiful as ice crystals) now descends secretly in blizzards sent down from the arctic to seduce weary travelers like a siren of winter.

Yet in whose heart of hearts do the heavy imprints of Santa not still linger? That is, once stripped of the tiresome realism and cynicism that seems to accompany this undiagnosed malady called adulthood; surely the spirit of fondest early remembrance still clings in fidelity to the softest quilt of the soul?  Why not make peace with it? Longer nights and shorter days reluctantly aid the undressing of this misplaced ‘grownup complex’–how else to explain the miserable epidemic called “Holiday Blues”?

Sadly, that ‘One Glorious Day’ now comes and goes for so many of the post-kindergarten crowd with ne’er a tear dropped to mark old Santa’s tragic failure to return. Forever, adults must suffer a collective loss of bliss and wonder which for them resides in the frozen angst of waiting. The primary shame that accompanies this aborted miracle numbs even the noses of Prancer and poor Rudolph. Not even Jewish kids escaped untrodden. Though no one dares speak of it, the abandonment we feel is of mythic proportions. In fact, it marks the very death of myth itself! However acute, by comparison Old Yeller was just a dog.

The epiphany of pre-egos left behind by The Golden One of the Fragrant Spruce never really grinds back into dust. (Does not the “first whiff” of sweet pine still resonate like stardust through our primal senses?).  Tragically, The Grand Father for whom a full year we are good remains unaccounted for. But where has he gone? Does he no longer care?  Are we no more deserving than this black lump of coal? One simply shivers in the face of it, unless, far worse, one has fallen victim to the bluest of all modernist revelations: Santa Claus Is Dead. There, I said it.

Is this tragic development not worthy of even an occasional soul searching?  I mean, we are talking about Santa Claus, Santa Claus! I say let’s admit the ugly truth and move on, America: Santa Claus is Dead and in his beloved place We Have Been Malled!  That’s right, malled, and we must come to terms with it.

Aerial photographs confirm this fact beyond a shadow of a doubt. Bing Crosby now croons through the pipes in seven minute intervals on six continents and in forty-seven languages.  Thirsty shoppers expand mall lot floors in floating mazes like self-spawning manic desert ants in running shoes. ‘Gifting economics’ has replaced the Mystery of Chimneys.  Evergreen tree farms are big business, reindeer have been Bullwinkled, and the truth is, Big Red is dead.  He has been replaced in the night by an opiate, consumerism.

The fallout has been incalculable. Long ago, when the Flat Earth theory debunked, sure there was unhappiness– but it pales in comparison to The Big Dead Red. When newly discovered continents were named for the wino, Amerigo Vespucci,and red-skinned peoples bearing tomahawk and teepee were thought fluent in Sanskrit, well, such initial “misattributions” were dealt with, corrected, and eventually assimilated. The point is we moved on. We woke up and smelled the flowers. Would that our current ignorance was so easily redressed. But surrogate shopping malls posturing asthe Spirit of Xmas?  The thought is repugnant, and until recently, unthinkable.

More curious today perhaps is the extraordinary resiliency of what has been charitably called “false memory syndrome.”  How we clutch desperately, say the doctors, to the memory of what never really happened in our kitten years, but rather to what we profoundly wished had happened, or feared could happen. “Now emanating from the planet’s northern pole,” we were told from our first cognitive moment–(and yes, big people worthy of our trust concurred and encouraged)— “Santa Claus is coming tonight!” He would descend from the heavens upon flying arctic reindeer to land with perfect prescient accuracy into our very own living rooms via the chimney bearing wondrous gifts and toys!  This was, above all else, pure religious experience.  It defined the religious experience, at least for this author. What more could one ask for? Think about it. (And who better than a red-suited, pink-cheeked, bellowing, soup and cookie snacking, white-haired, fat guy with a beard and a good sense of humor to deliver this most marvelous and fantastic miracle of all?) Yes, we believed.

We believed, even as the years rolled on, when we suspected things were perhaps not quite as they seemed. We believed in a special portal of our souls we reserved for enchantment and transcendent magic, even as Santa’s choice in toys did not correspond to our own.  Our faith was the innocence and wonderment of divine magic, and so the myth survived, and survives even today—that is, were we mature enough in mind and in spirit to contact that living portal of higher wonder now buried so deeply beneath the shopping centers of our hearts and minds.

Because we remain injured children pretending to be adults who no longer believe, we are mythically conflicted around primary magic.  This is the paradox, indeed the karma, of Christmas. Because in truth we still have access to this forgotten inner sanctum, yet fear the potential costs of re-entry (insult to injury)—sadly, every year we continue to flex our massive defense mechanisms and pull tighter on the red-striped ties around our necks to shed not a tear. Santa is not…

But the mythic realm is real as antlers and mistletoe, poor ones who have lived in shame for so long. Though we were indeed abandoned by the true Saint of The Snow,He lives within us now (if we only had the courage to unshovel him).  But remember this: we were never betrayed by Santa Claus, but by ourselves, that is, when we stopped believing in the real world of myth. Thus we now compensate in our mad dash to the desecrated graveyards of Christmas to empty our wallets in penance for disbelieving. Oh Dear Santa, shall you ever rise again?  Say, what’s that music I hear in crooning the pipes?



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