As we look to the end of Christmastide next week, I thought it seemly to bid farewell to the season with a fond nod – not just of respect and gratitude, but as shall be seen of reverence and some awe – to the inspiring and administering angel of the domestic rites of that festival, Santa Claus. With that statement, I have given away the matter of this post.
All grownups know there is no such thing as Santa Claus. Yet all children who have heard of him – including such children as still live in the psychic depths of almost all grownups – know at once upon their first acquaintance with his myth that he must be real. As children eventually navigate the passage from the innocent child’s world, where fairies, elves, dragons, monsters, trolls, demons and angels are all quite vividly real, to the world of adulthood, and try to figure out how Santa might fit into that latter world so as to be somehow real, they come always up empty. These days, anyway. I sure did.
I thought about this on Christmas Eve, when talking with my daughter about Santa vis-à-vis her little niece and nephews, and about the Santa trap she and her brothers set when they were little (Santa was not entrapped, but signs of his struggle with the web of string and masking tape they had erected over the mouth of the living room fireplace on Christmas Eve were manifest all over the carpet – the trail of his ashen boot prints indicated that Santa had stumbled across the room and onto the couch). How is it, I wondered aloud, that if Santa is so completely unreal, nevertheless his domestic cult so doggedly persists? How is it that children are all so ready to credit him, and so loath to abandon their belief in him, and so sad when at last they do so? He must serve some profound important function in the lives of children. What is it?
And, at last and at most deep: if Santa is that important, can it really be that he is nowise real? If he is somewise real, in what wise might that be?
Now, it is not difficult to devise a just so story that explains the important function of Santa in the lives of children. Together with his dark companion and antithesis Krampus, Santa serves to reify and thus to objectify the moral ukases otherwise incumbent upon children only through their parents. Santa and Krampus testify that morality is not some adventitious or capricious invention of grownups, devised only to torment children, but is rather supernatural in origin, and fundamentally spooky – numinous, and sacred.
Such just so stories have been devised to explain – and explain away – all stories of the supernatural, whatsoever. That they do explain such stories does not however mean that the subjects of those stories are not real. On the contrary; that such and such a thing has an explanation is evidence of its reality.
How might Santa – and Krampus, and the elves, aye and the reindeer and Santa’s workshop at the North Pole – be construed as real, under terms that are amenable and thus credible to grownups with some metaphysical education? How then might parents hand down the tradition of Santa to their children without worry that they are partaking a lie?
It’s not that hard, really, once we recall the angels. They are the archetypal concrete instantiations of the Forms, and as such are subsidiary to the Form of the Good, who is God; are then his ambassadors, agents, and messengers, who administer and inspire every worldly event. Say then that Santa is the angel of the domestic aspect of Christmas (the angel of the ecclesial aspect of that feast is perhaps Gabriel). Everything then falls into place. Krampus is a Fallen angel – a demon, and subsidiary to Satan. He is Santa’s adversary. Santa feeds children, bringing them fruits and candies; Krampus abducts and, like his brother Moloch, devours them. Santa’s elves are his subsidiary angels; his reindeer, too (like the cherubim (griffins) and the seraphim (dragons), they can take animal form and have preternatural powers). Santa’s home in the north is perhaps his particular star, his realm of Polaris.
What about Saint Nicholas? How was he assimilated to the legend of Santa Claus? As the Resurrector of the Pickled Boys, he is the patron saint of children – especially of boys, who are more likely to get into trouble than girls. We may construe Bishop Nicholas of Myra then as a paramount human type and participation of the angelic Father Christmas.
Parents then, in their arrangement and supply of the lovely domestic rites of the Christmas feast, are likewise human types and participations of Santa’s angelic elves. When mothers and fathers array the presents under the tree at 2 AM on Christmas Morning, they enact the blessing upon children of their patronal angel, and act as themselves his agents, ambassadors, and human angels.
Are you real, mother and father? Then so are Santa’s elves, of whom you are unwitting agents; and so then is their lord, Father Christmas.
So is it that on Christmas Eve, Santa does really and concretely visit all households that celebrate Christmas, however ambivalently. When whether by calling them or imitating them you invoke or bid the angels – and the demons – then whether you reckon them or not, they do really come, and do really their characteristic work.
This is why Christmas morning around the Tree of Lights can be so magical, and good. It isn’t the presents, or the loving intentions behind them – those are as it were the elements of the happy ritual climax of the familiar year. Those elements are wonderfully and naturally good in themselves, to be sure; but they are consecrate, and in turn sanctify, on account of their meet appropriation to the operations of the Christmas angels.
That’s one way to think about it, anyway.
A Happy New Year to all orthosphereans, and to all men of good will.
Post Scriptum: it bears mention also that Santa’s sleigh is with the Merkavah chariot throne that Elijah rode into the heavens a type of the Throne of YHWH that sits above the cherubim in the Holy of Holies.