Does Santa deserve death?

It’s wrong to tell children that Santa Claus is real, argues Edward Feser:

Parents who do this certainly mean well, but they do not do well, because lying is always wrong. Not always gravely wrong, to be sure, but still wrong. That is bad enough. But there is also the bad lesson that children are apt to derive from this practice, even if the parents do not intend to teach it – namely, the immoral principle that lying is acceptable if it leads to good consequences. There is also the damage done to a child’s trust in his parents’ word. “What else might they be lying about? What about all this religion stuff?”

Some people might think Feser’s insistence on honesty is a little harsh. But it’s nothing compared with the way some French Catholics reacted to Santa in the 1950s. Here’s a news report that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on December 24, 1951:

DIJON, France, (AP) — Santa Claus was burned in effigy on the steps of Dijon Cathedral yesterday. Two hundred and fifty children watched and cheered.

A figure twice as large as life, wearing the traditional red costume and white beard, was hoisted to the wrought-iron grille at the door of the great gothic church.

A young man in a top hat called out:

"Does Santa Claus deserve death?"

"Yes, yes!" roared the children and pelted Santa with orange peels.

A fire was set and Santa Claus perished in the flames. Only his gloves remained.

The children belonged to the Roman Catholic patronate of St. Benigne parish, the Cathedral’s parish. After the ceremony, an anonymous communique was posted on the church door. It read:

"United in all the Christian homes of the parish, 250 children who want to fight against lies have burned Santa Claus. This is not a vaudeville act, but a protest against lies which are incapable of awakening the religious feelings of children and are in no sense a method of education. To a Christian, Christmas is the anniversary of the Savior’s birth."

Several French Catholic prelates, including Jules-Geraud Cardinal Saliege of Toulouse, recently have denounced the "paganization" of Christmas, specifically assailing Santa Claus.

Update: The incident at Dijon Cathedral attracted the attention of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. In ‘The Execution of Father Christmas‘, he wrote:

Father Christmas, symbol of irreligion—what a paradox! For in this case everything is happening as if it were the Church adopting an avidly critical attitude on honesty and truth, while the rationalists act as guardians of superstition. This apparent role reversal is enough to suggest that the whole naïve business is about something much more profound …

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
11 years ago

I wonder what answer Mr Feser and the dads of St. Benigne gave when their wives asked them whether they looked fat in the brand new frock the missus just bought?

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

The frogs have had it in for Coke for a long time. And Maccas.

Fair enough too.

Scotty Dog
Scotty Dog
11 years ago

Nick, I agree. Fat guy in red suit is a purely commercial invention.

Problem I have with this kind of honesty is that my kids live in the world. So, they have to interact with all of their friends. And I’m afraid 6 years old is too young for my girl to be an outcast due to her intellectual purity.

See, these kids of lies that EVERYBODY tells each other is what’s known as ‘culture’.

skepticlawyer
skepticlawyer(@skepticlawyer)
11 years ago

Christmas is already pagan, and has been since forever, something I wrote about here:

http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2006/12/19/so-this-is-christmas/

Someone needs to hit Mr Feser with the fun stick.

Persse
Persse
11 years ago

Not to mention that JC is entirely fictional.

Stephen
Stephen
11 years ago

Another way of looking at it is that it’s important to teach kids that people lie. The first quote seems to imply that telling kids about Santa is bad because it might make kids question the existence of his invisible mountain friend. It could be argued that it’s good for that very reason.

derrida derider
derrida derider
11 years ago

“To a Christian, Christmas is the anniversary of the Savior’s birth”

Err, no. If the gospels are to be believed he was born sometime in June or July (though they are very inconsistent about what year). Christmas is just the winter solstice celebration that most northern cultures had. It was actually created in late Roman times to prevent discontent over the abolition of Saturnalia.

I have a crazy fundy sister who won’t celebrate Christmas – she correctly describes it as “pagan”. She also dislikes Easter bunnies and eggs – they’re indecent symbols in her book. Like those mad French tykes she’s actually being logical, if intolerant.

TimT
11 years ago

The 1950s French burnt sacrifice of Santa would please the hearts of pagans everywhere. They loved making and sacrificing strawmen.

TimT
11 years ago

Now that I come to think of it, bloggers do too…

The Beverage Curve
The Beverage Curve
11 years ago

DD,

I do not know of any christian who believes Christ was born on Christmas day.
Yes it is to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Yes the day was adopted to supersede a pagan ritual. This succeeded.

Yes Easter bunnies and eggs are indecent symbols and she is right not to tolerate them.

Catching up
Catching up
11 years ago

It will not harm childrn to learn very early in life that they need to question everything.

Tammy
Tammy
11 years ago

While it’s valid to argue against the commercialisation of Xmas, I think the concept of Santa as a lie is tenuous and misguided.

Firstly, and most importantly, kids need to learn to distinguish between lies and myths and develop their own critical thinking skills. To elaborate on Stephen’s and Catching up’s comments, I consider it part of my 12 year old’s development that he logically worked out that I was Santa and used that knowledge to question the existence of the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny, too. He now has a very healthy sense of sceptism! And he plays the game by pretending to believe at the right time, when it is to his material benefit!

Along similar lines, I had a discussion with my son last night, where I said I wished I could kiss his sore throat better. He laughed and we talked about how it would have worked a few years ago. While he considers lying not acceptable and totally trusts that I wouldn’t lie to him, he doesn’t consider this was an abuse of his trust or in any way unethical. He is able to distinguish that kissing a child better works (however unscientific and unlikely) and admitted he would use the practice with his own children.

Secondly, this position is not a great distance from one of not allowing children to use their imaginations and not telling them fairy tales or allowing them to read fiction or mythology or watch cartoons. We encourage it as a normal part of childhood development. Doesn’t every child believe in magic and dragons and even Pokemon? Is a child imagining that he/she is someone else and role playing a character lying to themselves and any other children playing along?

Rafe
11 years ago

The Forbes Rich Lists had/have a category of richest cartoon character. Santa was on top one year but they said he had to be taken out due to a mass of mail insisting that Santa was not a cartoon character.

And as Professor Brainstorm said on Futurama the other night “they used to think that the tooth fairy was a myth as well, but now he’s the head of the CIA”.

Buy the Aussie Day before Xmas anyway.

http://www.kilmenyniland.com/illustration/AussieDayBeforeChristmas.html

FDB
FDB
11 years ago

But there is also the bad lesson that children are apt to derive from this practice, even if the parents do not intend to teach it – namely, the immoral principle that lying is acceptable if it leads to good consequences.

I’d suggest learning that people lie, even to their loved ones, is a good consequence. Busting the Santa lie is a nice innocuous way to learn this lesson.

There is also the damage done to a child’s trust in his parents’ word. “What else might they be lying about? What about all this religion stuff?”

See above. An excellent lesson. ;)

TimT
11 years ago

And as Professor Brainstorm said on Futurama the other night “they used to think that the tooth fairy was a myth as well, but now he’s the head of the CIA”.

Brainstorm is wrong, everyone knows the Tooth Fairy is a woman.

James Farrell
James Farrell
10 years ago

Scotty Dog doesn’t belive in Santa but defends kids’ right to be told lies about him.

Malcolm Knox has the same attitude to religion.

(I tried to post a version of this comment a while ago, but it didn’t go through, for some reason.)