Santa’s fall: How did cynicism become a holiday trend?


When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

There has to be more to it, doesn’t there? Doesn’t this “Santa” guy have some ulterior motive?

That’s what my teenage daughter tells me is behind the latest trend in holiday specials, the destruction of Santa or revelation that Santa himself has a serious flaw of some kind. Nothing could possibly be that pure and nice, goes the reasoning, so what is he really up to? Giving away presents to little children just so that they’ll sit on your lap in a Department Store sounds pretty sleazy when you put it the right way.

I think the whole problem starts with “Nightmare Before Christmas”, one of my favorite works of animation ever. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s about ennui and hidden love as the Pumpkin King wants to try his hand at Christmas in the land where holidays live. Santa Clause is kidnapped and later tortured in this movie, but is ultimately rescued in time to “put things right”.

From there, it gets considerably worse. In Futurama, Santa is a robot programmed to judge who is naughty and who is nice with ruthless efficiency. Unfortunately, his standards were set too high, and he invariably judges everyone to be naughty. Oh, and he does his best to kill the naughty who find themselves out on Xmas Eve. It is used to bring a new meaning to Sleigh/Slay, and the Mistletoe becomes a TOW Missile. It’s not for the delicate-minded.

After this, all bets are off with Invader ZIM. Discovering that people are drawn to the character of Santa, a plucky invader from a planet known for enslaving decides to take over the Santa character with predictable results.

Where did all this come from? Is nothing sacred anymore, not even Santa? The short answers are that it comes from a deep cynicism about our own culture and no, nothing is sacred anymore. We aren’t a people that really want icons of goodness and cheer cluttering up our lives. Santa, like just about everything, is just one more thing that can be skewered to great effect. It’s like the scary clown figure that has become more popular than an ordinary clown.

I admit, I find all this stuff really funny. But it’s still a bit sad to think that there is no one standard of purity and happiness that hasn’t become fodder for a few jokes. My kids are growing up, so some of this I have to expect. What’s especially galling is that I brought all of these things into their lives. I only have myself to blame. Wait! I know! I can blame Santa! This was his ulterior motive all along! Right?