[TTT] Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney
I don’t know about you all, but I am one of those loony people who really loves Christmas and the December holiday season in general. It’s always been a totally secular celebration for me, so I don’t have a lot of baggage wandering around from childhood associated with the sacred aspects of the season and finding out the truth about Santa Claus didn’t cause me any trauma and I love the build up of everything special and bright and glittery associated with having a tree in the living room and lots of incandescent critters out on the lawn. The food’s not bad either.
This year we are also in the sweet spot for holiday related television. Mo, at age 4, is old enough to get everything going on around her and to revel in the conceptual magic – flying reindeer (the child is obsessed with Rudolph this year), living singing snowmen, all that jazz. R is a little old to seek out most Christmas specials, but he’s not quite too old to decide he wants to linger in the living room with Mo to watch “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” rather than heading back down stairs to watch “Pawn Stars” or another WWII documentary.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years of watching of watching the Rankin-Bass oeuvre along with dozens of current Junior station “[Marketable Cartoon Character(s)] save Christmas!” specials is that for a magical dude who is based on a saint and supposedly has the ability to essentially be everywhere in the world at the time most convenient for parents of at least marginally culturally Christian kids, Santa is either an asshole or a bumbling idiot or both. I mean really – how many times does the man threaten to cancel Christmas in those old stop motion shows? In “The Year Without a Santa Claus” he feels unappreciated and pouty, so wev kids. Santa’s getting his emo on. At least it’s a terrible terrible storm in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” that threatens happiness, but then there’s that whole mocking and isolating “misfits” thing that sort of belies the idea of a loving generous representation of the spirit of Christmas. In “Olive the Other Reindeer“, one of my favorite standalone specials of my adulthood, Santa is at least not a total jerk, but man, everyone else is up at the North Pole.
Then there’s the show-specific offerings. For the most part, the character driven episodes for the preschool set don’t depict Santa as a moody jerk. No, instead most of the time he’s just incompetent. Although with the number of Nick and Disney Jr. characters ready to jump to help him at a moment’s notice, perhaps he’s just gotten complacent. If it’s not the Wonder Pets saving a baby reindeer, or the Paw Patrol conveniently being in place to fix a broken sleigh, it’s the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang traveling to the North Pole to conjure a special ribbon Mousekatool or Team UmiZoomi to the rescue with their mechanical math skills. I mean really, what did Santa do before he could call on cartoon children to help fix his machinery?
In a way, I think all of this is kind of neat. We sort of half-ass Santa at our house. I’m happy to have my little one believe as long as she wants (that train left the station for my elder when he was 6 and my goodness did people think I was a horrible parent). I’m not sure the depth of her belief in Santa as something real, because she’s still in a stage where she’ll talk about any TV character or picture book as if she’s having real adventures. That’s just how her brain works. So in thinking about it, I kind of like the fact that these shows put a more human, less completely unknowable magic face on Santa, since it makes him more like all of the other characters that populate her imagination. But, dude, I still hate how he treats Rudolph. But for giggles, here’s me singing the song anyway. Happy Holidays y’all!
If I may, I would like to suggest a different way of thinking about Santa’s incompetence: Fizban from the Dragonlance series. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paladine)
Imagine Santa as a powerful being, who certainly COULD do/fix all of the things himself, but instead he prefers to behave as a bit of a fool to allow those around him to figure the things out. This allows their true nature to reveal itself. In some ways this could be seen as the same situation as many Christians believe their god is in with respect to all humans (his children). God/Santa/Fizban allows certain bad things to happen in order to allow good and great things to happen, and people to excel and impress. Then of course there is judging and punishment/reward. In that sense, it may be a part of a larger theology.
That’s definitely a possibility. I’m not sure an authority figure who deliberately crashes his sleigh and then demands that people help him to “save Christmas” is that much better – perhaps we’re back in Santa’s kind of a jerk territory. Which definitely doesn’t negate your theory. 😉
I think that really, it’s lazy formulaic storytelling within a deliberately formulaic medium. Kids love seeing their stand ins be capable and save the day, which is why it’s such a theme. Less formula driven shows have more nuanced portrayals of the holidays, even changing names and creating new traditions. When the main characters sole purpose on screen is to save something, there’s only so many ways to shoehorn Santa in there.