I have been noticing something interesting this season as December 25th has been approaching: Santa Claus is seemingly more popular than ever. Of course, this is the jolly fat guy that most of us have grown up with and now our children are growing up with too. His image is legendary, burnished in our collective consciousness by advertisements, movies, TV shows, Christmas cards, and works of art. His iconic white beard, red suit, black boots and belt, and cherry nose are more identifiable to people around the world than just about any other person living or dead. So, in the face of such success, why should I propose that Santa needs a makeover?
In essence it’s because Santa is a victim of his own success. He is trapped in his role as jolly old elf. There is no room for him to branch out, try something new, become what he has always been meant to be, perhaps. For in the ubiquitous nature of being Santa, he is caught in a steel trap that would cause most people to want to escape. Obviously, he must wear different clothing during the course of the year, but every Christmas he has to wear the red suit. Why? What if he took a chance and wore turquoise? Or yellow? And those boots have got to go. Yes, they are functional for crossing snow-covered rooftops and no doubt keep his feet warm in that open sleigh, but a pair of fur-lined moccasins might be more comfortable.
No, this isn’t my version of a “Straight Eye for the Fat Guy” concept, but rather a move toward reinventing Santa’s image, getting him into the 21st century and, by doing so, making him even more relevant than he is. For example, when I take my daughter to see him at the mall (okay, we all know this is one of his “helpers” and not the real deal), there are so many nervous children and equally unsettled parents waiting on line for hours. Why does it take so damned long? Because “Santa” is still using 15th century technology.
My idea for “seeing Santa” is to have an elf sitting right next to Santa with a laptop at the ready. Parents could save time by placing their children’s lists on disc, thus the elf would not need to type in the items the kid is asking for immediately. Elf could take the disk, click once, and send the list off to the newly computerized center at the North Pole, where the other elves could be getting right to the task of making that rocking horse, iPod, cellular phone, or video game. And, if they can’t find the materials, there is always eBay. I estimate the kid could sit on Santa’s lap, grab a candy cane, and be off with his parents in less than sixty seconds.
I think we are all locked into this old-time kind of Santa thing mostly because of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem. “The Night Before Christmas” (published in 1822) really established the image of Santa Claus that we use to the present day, and after that there was no escaping his bowl full of jelly physique or the red suit and white beard. Santa’s path was set before him for centuries to come, and I’ve got to wonder what the real guy felt about that.
The original Saint Nicholas was from Turkey (where he lived and supposedly “died”), so I doubt very much that he ever wore such warm clothing. During the Middle Ages, when he began to expand his operations to the northern countries like Holland and Norway, he may have needed that warm suit. But I’m sure as his sleigh moved south over the equator that Santa has always switched (there is a powder room on the sleigh, if you didn’t know) to a pair of shorts, T-shirt, and a nice pair of sunglasses.
Also, I’ve always had a feeling that there was a darker edge to Santa Claus, one that has been suppressed by adults and the corporate world. Could a guy who “sees you when you’re sleeping” really be so nice? Just what gives him the right to make up a “naughty and nice list” and then leave coal for the naughty kids? Coal is kind of sinister and comes from a dark place akin to the underworld, and if you take the “saint” out of “Old Saint Nick” you get “Old Nick,“ which just happens to be a slang name for Satan (a word which by rearranging the letters gives us Santa).
I think that dark side is something the current Santa Claus needs to exploit. It worked for Billy Bob Thornton in the film Bad Santa, and I have a feeling that kind of Santa with an edge could redefine the old guy and make him as cool and as rich as The Donald. Also, it might be a very good idea for Santa to change his name or hyphenate it. Perhaps something like S-Claus, Fifty Sant, or Ice-C could work, or maybe he could just take the Cher and Madonna route and go by one name. I’d say drop the Santa and go with Claus.
This reinventing or refreshing the Santa Claus image is not my idea alone and is nothing new, either. In Iceland there is the tradition of the 13 Yule Lads (Santa Clauses), and although they leave goodies in children’s shoes, they perform some kind of act of mischief as they do so. With names like Spoon Licker, Door Slammer, Sausage Swiper, and Window Peeper (read a story about his recent arrest), it doesn’t take much imagination to associate the kind of trouble they would make as they went from house to house.
This tradition has been handed down over the centuries, but in modern-day Iceland there are thirteen brothers who live in Dimmuborgir (Dark Castle) in Mývatn and carry on as the various personalities. Needless to say, parents must be thrilled to have someone like Window Peeper leaving goodies in their children’s shoes on the front porch and lingering for a look in the bedroom window.
Still, according to what I’ve read, this thrills the Icelandic children more than the standard “ho-ho-ho” of the old jolly elf. No one knows when or where the Yule Lads will strike, thus making each night of the Twelve Days of Christmas exciting indeed. Our traditional Santa Claus doesn’t bring that kind of excitement, and even kids on the “naughty list” still seem to get gifts (according to my daughter who is in kindergarten and says even her naughty friends do get presents). Santa needs to shake things up, change his image, and even go a little toward the dark side. People will not only like him then; they will positively love him.
A song like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” gives just a hint of how mischievous the old elf could be, but I imagine we could someday have a song like “I Saw Santa Stealing Daddy’s BMW Last Night.” And just think how jealous those Yule Lads of Iceland would be then.
Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
* For an English translation of the original Yule Lads story