Lying in my bed this morning, pondering the universe, I got to thinking about the fact that the whole Santa thing just doesn’t really work in this day and age. Oh sure, he epitomises the whole consumerist culture that drives Western economies, but socially he’s a danger to our children.
The idea of a complete stranger coming into our houses would have most of us dialling the police or reaching for our firearms (depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on).
Even worse is the idea of an old man giving presents to our children, especially when he is not known to us. If one of our children came home and said this old geezer tried to give him or her a present, most of us would, once again, be dialling the police or reaching for our firearms (depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on), while asking our child if they had screamed loudly, kicked the old bastard hard in the nuts, bent back his little finger until it snapped and poked him in the eye before running away, just as we’d taught them to do if they were approached by strangers.
When I was little, there was an old man in the village called Harold who kept a pile of boiled sweets in his jacket pocket. Whenever he saw a small child he would reach into his pocket and find a sweetie for them. I guess he was harmless enough, and just enjoyed making little kids smile. Certainly my parents never seemed worried about him. These days, however, he’d be reported to the police as a suspected paedophile.
In our separate lives, where we don’t live as part of the tribe, clan, or extended family, where “a sense of community” is something our parents talk about as something they used to experience, we live out independent lives where we can rely on no one but ourselves.
We house ourselves, feed ourselves, protect ourselves, provide our own entertainment, sort out our own security arrangements, raise our children on our own: in other words, everything humans would originally have shared with their tribe we now have to provide ourselves. We have to go out and work long hours to gain the money to live completely independently.
Previously, the threat from a stranger came from outside the clan, and the rest of the clan were there to help protect you. These days that clan only extends as far as the 4 walls and front door of your house, so everyone is a stranger and therefore a potential threat.
The more independent we become, the more we don’t need to rely on anyone else, the more insular and paranoid we turn out to be. The fear of everyone else is becoming more and more exaggerated. Strangers are potential muggers, paedophiles or suicide bombers.
These days, the guy dressed as Santa at the shopping mall has to follow very strict guidelines about not holding or touching the children that visit his grotto. “Come and sit on my knee little girl/boy” is a phrase riddled with sexual paranoia and fear.
In our culture of independence and self-reliance, there is little room for the acceptance of the stranger. How much longer will the Father Christmas myth last in today’s society?