Santa Claus and Culture War

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This column was originally published in the Roanoke Beacon the week of July 19th, 2021.

To begin with: I am not a Christian. I write these lines as a non-religious agnostic who nonetheless appreciates the values of our Judeo-Christian culture mainly because I think that there just isn’t anything better. This culture and its values certainly had their ups and downs through the course of history. Christians burned heretics on the stakes, tortured so-called witches, and forced their religion on many other people who had their own religions, in spite of the fact that Jesus preached peace and self-denial. But over time, the Christian faith and its various churches and sects became fairly civilized, worn down by Renaissance, Enlightenment, Humanism, Rationalism, science, and emancipation of women and workers. While Christian churches largely abandoned aspirations of worldly power their core values prevailed: altruism, love, and a combination of Natural, Judaic and Roman law.

The foes of the Judeo-Christian Culture tell us that religious values, images, symbols, books, statues, inscriptions etc. must be removed from all public places because the “separation of church and state” demands it. That is, of course, pure propaganda. Displaying religious symbols in public places has nothing to do with the separation of church and state but a lot with religious freedom. In early medieval Europe the Catholic Popes claimed that all secular power (in particular that of Kings) was only legitimate, as long as it was sanctioned by the Church. The people had no choice at all. Catholicism was the state religion. Now THAT was truly the absence of separation of church and state! After the Reformation, a 30-year war erupted in Europe and depending on martial events, rulers changed frequently and with them their religion: Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Evangelical, Calvinist, etc. Each time this happened, the subjects of such rulers had to adopt the religion of the rulers. This principle was known as “cuius regio, eius religio” – (you must adopt the religion of whoever rules over you). In other words: government dictated what religion its subjects were permitted to have. It was zero separation of church and state.

In the USA today, nobody is forced to adopt a certain religion or give it up as mandated by government. That our constitution is based on the belief in a God – not even necessarily the Christian God – neither mandates that any citizen of the USA must (or must not) believe in God leave alone the Christian God or must (or must not) practice any particular religion as long as it does not violate the Constitution. The Constitution is the common value platform, on which all religion in the US must stand. This would seem to rule out religions that propagate cannibalism, human sacrifices, holy prostitution, or wars of aggression or similar perverted behavior. The display of Christian, Islamic or Jewish etc. religious symbols in public places, on public buildings or in schools is just part of religious freedom. Religion is not a private Club or a secret society. It’s a lifestyle based on a comprehensive values system that pervades all facets of a believer’s life. It is hence nonsensical to demand and oppressive to mandate that religion should only be practiced in a windowless backroom, hidden from the public instead of openly and visible for all. How does this sound: “In public I behave as if I had no religion, but in private I am a devout Catholic (Jew, Baptist, Muslim etc.).” Silly? Nonsensical? Inconsistent? Unconvincing? Absurd? All of the above?

Since religion is so deeply engrained in our culture and society and since our nation was partly founded on the quest for religious freedom, it is difficult for the enemies of religion to attack it frontally and direct. But attack it they must because they are mostly Marxist atheist materialists who believe that religion is “opium for the people” and that theirs is the only true worldview. And because they realize that religion is the main road block on the road to their totally just utopian society: Communism. Hence, they attack religion indirectly using mainly two tactics: they try to remove religion from public life and they try to profane and secularize religion, currently mainly the Christian religion. What follows, is an example for how the secularization of the Christian religion works.

According to the Christian faith, Christmas was originally about the birth of Jesus in the manger as God’s son and the savior of humankind. Roman Catholic missionaries who missionized the Northern Europeans found that some heathen habits were hard to eradicate. Whenever they met a custom they could not get rid of, they incorporated it into the Christian religion. This happened with the Christmas tree, which has its roots in the winter solstice celebrations of the old Nordic peoples. Then, somehow, St. Nicholas entered the picture. This was St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in Lycia (then Greece, today South-Western Turkey) who lived in the 4th century. At the time, a ferocious debate raged among Christians over “homoousia” and “homoiousia”: the former meaning that Jesus was truly God and that the Trinity (God/Jesus/Holy Ghost) was one and the same; the latter meaning that Jesus was only like God. The champion of homoousia was Athanasius, while Arius believed in humoiousia. Nicholas was a follower of Athanasius, whose beliefs later became the Nicaean Creed. His attacks on Arius earned him the reputation of being so holy that he was able to put the devil on a chain.

In Germany, St. Nicholas day used to be on December 6. Strangely, the Germans called Santa Claus also “Weihnachtsmann” i.e. “Christmas-Man”. Maybe this and the closeness to Christmas of Santa day caused people to confuse Santa with the birth celebration of Jesus. Also, Santa brought gifts. Jesus did not. This was probably how the gifts got under the Christmas tree. Today, Santa has almost completely displaced Jesus and many people believe that Christmas celebrates Santa, not Jesus.

Originally, Santa wore the garb of a Roman Catholic bishop with the bishop’s crozier in his right hand and a chain in his left on which he was holding a guy who was known as “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus”. This devil impersonator had the task of scaring the children out of their wits and of threatening to put them into his bag if Santa found that they had not been good. Santa was always pretending that he could barely hold the devil back who was pulling wildly on his chains making scary sounds. Clearly, a carrot-and-stick method of child education. Through the years, gradually the original Bishop-Santa was stripped of his devil as it became politically incorrect to punish children for undesirable behavior. The bishop-figure was increasingly replaced by the overweighed Santa in the red fur coat with the boots, the broad belt, and the HO HO HO etc. Marketing experts and culture warriors successfully substituted the Bishop-Santa with the folkloristic Russian Father Frost (“Дед Мороз”). Father Frost traditionally wore the garb of a rich Russian farmer (a boyar), hence the fur coat, the belt, and the boots. He was believed to give food and other gifts to the poorer farmers (the kulaks) when they were suffering from cold and hunger in the harsh Russian winter. It all goes back to a Russian fairy tale about Father Frost and Snowflake (!), a female fairy character.

Due to a misunderstanding, the westernized Russian folklore Santa was also called Kris Kringle in the US and arbitrarily placed on the North Pole. The Pennsylvania Dutch (who were in fact Germans) called Jesus “Christkindl”, i.e. Christ Child. Non-German speakers misunderstood and made the term into the male name, Kris Kringle, which they stuck on the Russianized HoHoHo Santa. In 1822, Clement Clarke added the reindeers with his poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. In 1930, Haddon Sundblom created the Coca Cola version of Santa as an advertising character fully endorsing the present appearance of Santa as a fat but jolly old man with facial rosacea. In 1949, songwriter Jonny Marks added the character of “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” to Santa’s reindeer team. Rudolph’s is a social story: first despised by the other reindeer, due to his outsider appearance (red nose), his peers “shout with glee” when Santa (higher authority, government) puts him into an elevated position. This smacks of Sesame Street social psychology. It completed the secularization of Santa Claus.

Note that the original Santa is depicted as a serious person, a wise man, an educator, a symbol of Christian orthodoxy. By contrast, the HoHoHo-man, sending Season’s Greetings to everybody from the National Cash Register Company, is ripe with stark communist symbolism: He is the Russian Father Frost, marching over from Communist Russia and China toward Canada, the USA, and Mexico making the victory sign with his right hand. Can one be more explicit? Yet, I bet the National Cash Register Company did not notice. Or if they did, what does that tell us? …. Yeah ….

The entire theme had mutated from the notion of the birth of a god-savior to being merry and happy, drinking Coke, and buying consumer goods. Gradually, “Merry Christmas” was replaced by the politically more correct “Happy Holidays” (note that a “holiday” was originally a “holy day”), which moves Christmas closer to the Holiday Inn Express and away from holiness. Then came the politically even more correct “Season’s Greetings” and recently we have now “Happy Winterfest” or “Happy Kwanza”. To say “Merry Christmas” is marked as culturally insensitive narrow-mindedness. It is bashed as being backward and anti-trend in a nation that seems busy removing crosses from school rooms and courtrooms, the words “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, and the nativity scene from public places. This all is the result of a decades-long process of subtle and not so subtle de-religionization and de-Christianization of our culture and society. Consumerism and progressive culture warriors have succeeded in removing the religious content from Christmas and Santa turning the former into a retail-shopping event and the latter into a ridiculously fat and somewhat silly looking caricature of the real saint. This is right from the little red book on how to manage secularization and culture war that could have been written by Antonio Gramsci, the mental father of the concept of culture war, and perfected by the Frankfurt School of Neo-Marxism, whose protagonists Adorno, Horkheimer,

Marcuse, Reich, and Fromm preached just this kind of subversive destruction of our open society and Judeo-Christian culture, using its openness against it. The neo-Marxist Critical Theory was developed as a tool for the disassembly of our values, society, and culture.

Beware, you Christians! Culture war is like cancer. If you don’t recognize it, you cannot fight it, and if you do not fight it, you cannot stop it, and you may wake up one not too distant morning in a society that chastises (perhaps even prohibits) Christian beliefs as atavistic, superstitious, and backward in an attempt to create a totally secular culture in a value vacuum of relativity, which will then be filled by a secular, totalitarian, collectivist ideology that takes over from the progressive demolition team.

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