‘Tis the season to remind ourselves of this primal brand that we paradoxically do not believe in, yet believe in sufficiently enough to tell our age-appropriate kids to believe in him.
After all, the million of believers surrounding Santa Claus intend to spend about $1096 on holiday gifts between Thanksgiving and the holidays—up over $200 from last year. That’s about $217.4 billion, according to industry trade group National Retail Federation, which helps us understand why good ole St. Nick is so jolly.
So let’s parse this belief system out, primal branding style.
The cultural creation story is about a St. Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century. He was good with children and the anniversary of his death was celebrated as St. Nicholas Day. In the 17th Century, the Dutch children of New Amsterdam (present day New York) brought their version of Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas) who arrived with his gifts on the night of December 5. "Sinter Klaas" became "Santa Claus", a philanthropic bearded old gentleman who reward the good and punished the bad.
The Santa creed is that he knows who’s been naughty and nice. Good kids get Christmas presents, bad kids get a lump of coal. Or at least they don’t get the new Xbox.
Icons? Haddon Sundblom’s portrayal of Santa painted for Coke ads in the 1930s tops the list. This jolly, red-cheeked, white bearded old troll has been our rendition of Santa ever since. Santa’s house and workshop at the North Pole are also icons, as well as the elves. And, of course, the reindeer. Other icons include all the Christmas music, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", created in 1939 as a holiday gimmick for Montgomery Wards department stories in Chicago. (Are you starting to understand when the commercialism of Christmas might have come in?) The Christmas tree, the manger setting, candy canes, Christmas stockings, the holiday punch bowl, even the weight fruit cake. Christmas packages adorned with ribbons and wrapping are also iconic. (If you don’t think so, imagine Xmas gifts without them—it’s just not Christmas.) While some of these icons are not solely around Santa, you get the idea.
Rituals surrounding Santa Claus are many. Sliding down the chimney. Sending your wish list to Santa. Sitting in Santa’s lap (also waiting in line at the department store to see Santa). Putting up the Christmas tree, leaving a snack out for Santa Christmas Eve, and gift shopping and gift giving are all a part of the ritual. (Clement Clark Moore’s seasonal poem “T'was the night before Christmas,” was written by him as a gift for his children.) Midnight mass, Christmas goose, Christmas bonuses, are also a part of the extensive rituals surrounding Christmas. And don’t forget the holiday ritual that will help hold the airlines together a bit longer this year as thousands of people transport themselves and their gifts for the holidays--“to Grandmother’s house we go.”
Sacred words include “Merry Christmas, “Ho ho ho!”, “Xmas”, “Santa”, all the songs and hymns. And, of course, "Xbox".
Those who do not believe in Santa Claus include those of other faiths and, well, adults.
The leaders (or in this case perpetuators) of Santa both legendary and imaginary, are Moms and Dads everywhere.