Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reimagining Santa

In this season we hear a lot about Santa Claus. For little kids we have to explain that all those men in red suits at the malls are just helpers, while the real Santa stays at the North Pole to get his seasonal work done. The classic animated feature shown on TV every year identifies him as a foundling child named Claus brought up by a clan of elves, the Kringles. The program offers origins for Santa's names, his toymaking elf helpers, gifts in stockings, the flying reindeer (the Winter Wizard fed them magical corn), Christmas trees, etc. For an adult viewer, elements of this story require robust suspension of disbelief, since we *know* the sources, for instance, of the names "Santa Claus" and "Kris Kringle." Still, it's fun to speculate about Santa's attributes from an SF/fantasy perspective. Clearly the reindeer have levitation abilities. How does Saint Nick visit all the children on Earth in one night? Obviously through a combination of teleportation and some device similar to Hermione's time turner in HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. He probably has a crystal ball or other scrying instrument to show him who's been bad or good. How does he get down narrow modern chimneys or into houses with no chimney at all? Teleportation again, or maybe a portable wormhole. How can he carry all those gifts at once? He must have a Bag of Holding (from the D&D game), a sack that opens directly into a pocket dimension. Why don't satellite images reveal his workshop and village at the North Pole? (All those elves, plus the reindeer, must need a lot of infrastructure.) Either it's underground with a very well-camouflaged entrance, or he uses a cloaking device. For that matter, how does he manufacture all the gifts, even with a team of elves working throughout the year? A replicator, STAR TREK style? That would explain why he delivers name-brand toys; he uses commercial products as templates.

In American popular culture, Santa is assisted by elves, the eight reindeer of "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," and Rudolf. In folklore, however, he has many different helpers, such as Black Peter (the Netherlands), Belsnickel (Pennsylvania), and Krampus (a demonic-looking creature from Eastern Europe), mostly with the task of delivering what bad kids deserve. Imagine Santa being accompanied by a soot-blackened, bearskin-clad, or cloven-hoofed sidekick who carries a whip to punish naughty children. Sounds like NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Not a type of character we're likely to see on network TV holiday cartoons anytime soon.

Maybe Saint Nick doesn't actually have to visit every child on Earth. After all, in addition to Santa's helpers, there are many different December gift-bringers throughout the world's cultures. Probably Santa shares the task of distributing presents with characters such as the Italian La Befana and Santa Lucia, Russian Grandfather Frost, Swedish Christmas Gnome, and the Three Kings. Imagine a convocation of all these figures parceling out their territories. (Are Father Christmas and Pere Noel the same person? If not, would they fight over who gets Quebec?) That could make a more entertaining Christmas special than yet another cartoon about a maladjusted reindeer.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:46 AM EST

    Humanity has always had a need for family, spirtuality, and a way to express those two things. If we haven't lost the need for those two things in 10,000 years, I can't see us losing them in the next 200 hundred years. I believe we'll always have Christmas, but I do wonder how it will evolve.