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Reflections on God and Santa

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It's Christmastime again — the one time of the year when everyone, Christians and atheists, Democrats and Republicans, even cats and dogs, can put aside their differences and enjoy the same wonderful holiday.

The Christmas spirit has caused me to start thinking about the nature of God — and the nature of Santa Claus. Now I'm sure I'm not the first person to speculate on the relationship between the two, but there are some amazing similarities that have led me to conclude that they are, indeed, the same person. Or, more precisely, I believe that God is the grown-up version of Santa Claus.

Let's start with the obvious physical characteristics. Both God and Santa are portrayed as old men with long white hair and a long white beard. While Santa is a little on the portly side, God apparently watches what he eats. St. Nick, of course, is obliged to down those millions of cookies left out for him, so I'm not judging.

Another striking feature of the two big guys is the way us humans treat them both as, essentially, ATM machines. Kids sit on Santa's lap and reel off a long list of toys that they really, really want, while "prosperity" preachers tell their flocks that God will give them anything they want — a new car, diamond rings, or that big new house. Of course, while Santa gives away his stuff for free, God usually requires that you ante up at least 10% of your income before giving up his stuff to you.

Then, of course, there's the whole reward and punishment system that both employ. While Santa promises presents for good children and threatens bad kids with a lump of coal, God is a little more serious about the whole thing, promising Heaven for those who believe in him and eternal torment in the fiery pits of Hell for those who don't. Stylistic differences, for sure, but essentially the same system.

So what's going on here? Could it be that most of us feel a need to believe in something, so when our childhood belief in a magical being is shattered by the shocking truth that it's just a story, we compensate by changing our belief system to accommodate a different kind of magical being, i.e. God?

Look at the answers people give to the same kinds of questions. When a child asks, "How can Santa visit all the houses in the world in just one night?" we tell him it's because he has magic reindeer that pull his magic sleigh through the night sky; when a skeptic asks a believer "How was the world created in just six days?" he is told that a magic spirit just said "Let it be," and it was. In other words, if you can't explain something logically, resorting to the "magic" explanation will do just fine.

There is one thing that does kind of bother me, however, and that's the fact that by pushing the "n" just two spaces to the right, Santa become Satan. Could it be that the whole Santa thing is a Satanic plot to confuse the hell out of us? Feel free to ponder. And while you're pondering, riddle me this: is it mere coincidence that "good" is just one "o" away from "God" and "evil" is just one "d" away from "devil?" Is your head exploding yet?

But I digress.

In any event, I'm of the "live and let live school," meaning that people should be free to believe or not believe anything they choose, and that when it comes to believing in God, nobody knows anything for sure. I believe that the true spirit of Christmas has to do with love and family and relationships and is embodied in man's fervent desire for "peace on earth."

So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!

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About Doug DeLong

  • duane

    I think that’s part of it, for some people. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

    Also, the legend of Santa Claus has its origins in the Catholic church and in Germanic paganism. The two versions were later unified in the wake of the spread of Christianity, so it’s not quite accurate to divorce belief in the Santa legend and belief in the Biblical legends, at least historically speaking. The Santa-based Christmas rituals were brought to America by the Dutch in the 1600s or 1700s, evidently. I think the Santa legend began to take on a non-religious life of its own as a natural by-product of relative economic prosperity in the 1900s, where he has become a symbol more associated with secular materialism, while serving as a watchful omniscient eye to keep the kiddies in line, at which point your theory would, at some level, apply. And there, it’s easy to see why hardcore Christians would object to immersion in the Santa legend among the secular: he serves as a God-substitute vis-a-vis the parent/child relationship.

    The Christian reward-punishment paradigm is an irresistible draw for many, and I think you’re right in noting that this pattern of belief is imprinted at an early age via Santa. Whether that represents an inherent need or whether it’s just an accident of history … who knows?

    Now, if you could explain hunting for colored boiled eggs on Easter Sunday ….