Comments on: The anti-Santas: on the plausibility of belief. History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:41:03 +0000 hourly 1 By: Indyanna Tue, 24 Dec 2013 17:58:08 +0000 Possibly something definitive on S.C. in Stephen Nissenbaum, _The Battle for Christmas_, which I don’t have to hand, and which is not even snippet on google books? I’d like to know where and how the stockings part got grafted on. My mother always told a tale about growing up in a coal-heated house in Connecticut with four siblings. The parents would leave at dawn for church, with the kids expected not to be up and about until they returned. One year the eldest (a brother, of course), got up and replaced whatever was in the stockings with glistening hunks of Pennsylvania anthracite. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued, and the story was still rattling around decades later. It made having an oil burner seem bland and desolate by comparison.

By: History Maven Tue, 24 Dec 2013 14:44:28 +0000 In our uber-patriotic times, what materialistic American wouldn’t love a man in uniform, even if that uniform is red and white, with a rakish cap and black belt and boots?

I thought it was the political cartoonist Thomas Nast who created, for Harper’s Weekly, the more modern image of Santa Claus:

By: truffula Tue, 24 Dec 2013 04:21:09 +0000 Clement C. Moore

Or maybe Henry Livingston Jr. But either way, to suppose that Santa Claus sprang fully formed from anybody’s head without an assist from Sinterklaas (Sankt Nikolaus in my parents’ house) seems a stretch to me. My progressive parents never suggested that black Peter was any particular ethnicity, just that he was the guy who left switches as a suggestion to your parents if you were bad. Sankt Nikolaus looked like a bishop.

By: Historiann Tue, 24 Dec 2013 03:42:19 +0000 Elves! I keep leaving my computer open at night, hoping that the Good Elves will come and finish my book for me. It hasn’t worked yet, alas.

I think the modern white, rosy-cheeked, red-suited Santa was a Clement C. Moore creation, but he had a major assist with some of those iconic Coca Cola Santas from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

My Santa looks and sounds like Barry White, BTW, and his elves look and sound like Aziz Ansari and Amy Poehler.

By: Ruth Tue, 24 Dec 2013 02:32:56 +0000 Truffula wrote that we didn’t even know Mrs. Claus existed till the 19th century. Actually Santa Claus as we know him didn’t exist till the 19th century, did he? I thought the idea that he was round and fat and wore a red suit, and was pulled through the air by flying reindeer, was invented by Clement Clark Moore.

I had a letter to the editor published in the Philadelphia Inquirer sometime back in the late 80s about Santa Claus, in fact. There was an issue about some shoppers at a mall objecting to a black Santa Claus, and the Inquirer had an editorial saying that Saint Nicholas himself probably had darkish skin because he was Turkish. (I’m paraphrasing from memory here.) I wrote a letter saying that St. Nicholas of Myra lived in Anatolia in the 4th century, and the Turks didn’t settle there till after 1071, and that in any case the idea that the late 20th century conception of Santa Claus has anything to do with Nicholas of Myra is ludicrous and a white Santa Claus is just as mythical a figure as a black Santa Claus. It just ticks me off when people try to justify current opinions, whether I agree with them (it’s fine for a mall Santa to be black) or disagree with them (marriage should only be between a man and a woman), with historical factoids that just aren’t true and even if they were wouldn’t be relevant.

By the way, speaking of belief in possibly nonexistent beings, here is an instance in which the belief in elves is politically useful:

By: truffula Mon, 23 Dec 2013 22:51:00 +0000 I also don’t believe in the Fox News Channel.


Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

By: delagar Mon, 23 Dec 2013 20:57:25 +0000 “…as he thinks it undermines your children’s faith in your word.”

There’s a great passage in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn where the grandmother tells Katie, the mother of Francie, that she has to raise her daughter to believe in Kris Kringle and the elves.

Katie objects, saying she doesn’t want to lie to her child. She says her daughter (who is a newborn infant at this point) will one day learn the truth, and know her mother has lied.

Yes, says the grandmother, and this will be a good thing. Then the child will come to understand that the world is a hard place, and people in authority do not always tell the truth. This, she says, is a hard truth, which the child must know.

I’m working from memory; but it’s a great passage. If y’all haven’t read that book, by the way, you should. I taught it in Working Class lit this semester. It was written in the early 40s, and it’s just excellent.

By: Historiann Mon, 23 Dec 2013 20:12:09 +0000 In addition to being an atheist and all-around prophane scoffer of everything but Santa, I also don’t believe in the Fox News Channel.

By: truffula Mon, 23 Dec 2013 20:08:10 +0000 I think anonymous grad puts it well with the word justification:

Santa hasn’t provided justification for slavery, genocide, and many other forms of oppression

Santa is relatively* innocuous. Organised religion isn’t. But then, it isn’t intended to be. The world’s religions have been used to justify both ill and good for millennia.

* Santa of course has baggage, witness the recent Fox News Santagate, arguments about just how racist Zwarte Pete is, Santa’s work in the U.S. selling everything under the sun, etc., etc. And you have to wonder about how he treats Mrs. Claus. We didn’t even know she existed until the 19th Century.

By: anonymous grad Mon, 23 Dec 2013 17:41:11 +0000 What Contingent Cassandra said, especially this part:

“My belief in God, which is neither entirely stable nor entirely certain, is something I see as much as an act of consent as anything else — I strive to live as if I believe in God, however strong or weak my faith may be at the moment.”

Yes to all that. I interpret “the way, the truth, and the life” through the concrete commitments of the first and third more than as a propositional claim about the second. This is not at all the same kind of belief I had in Santa Claus or God as a child. It’s interesting that we generally use the same language for both, but they’re very different psychologically.

That said, it’s absolutely fair and not rude or blasphemous to say that the virgin birth and resurrection are as unbelievable, if not more so, than Santa. Miracles are not supposed to be believable or plausible, by definition. Faith is not being convinced by logical arguments, it’s committing to absurdity. Santa Claus just doesn’t have the “back story” (high enough stakes, powerful enough promises) to inspire that commitment. On the other hand, as Historiann says, that also means Santa hasn’t provided justification for slavery, genocide, and many other forms of oppression.