Over at External Delivery the Future, Lacie Cuskin is pushing an idea called “External Delivery”, that Christmas presents are delivered by an intelligent agent of some sort. Although ED proponents are careful never to name the agent in question, it should be obvious to the meanest intellect that ED is merely Santa Clausism in a business suit, to make it seem sensible and avoid playground teasing.
Yet radical asantaists who deny the existence of Santa Claus in such vitriolic screeds as The Santa Claus Fantasy, Unwrapping the Gift, and Santa Claus Is Not Jolly, also miss the boat, by addressing a naïve conception of Santa Claus.
Yes, parentism appears to be true as far as it goes. The evidence, from analysis of gift tags to wrapping stations at shopping malls, is too overwhelming. If we could place a video camera by the tree on Christmas Eve, it would not record anything, and certainly not an overweight man with a bag of toys. Satellite photography shows no signs of a workshop at the north pole, and NORAD’s Santa Tracking Station is a known fraud. There is no literal Grinch and no coal in anyone’s stocking. But reflective santaists believe that such a caricature of Christmas tradition is ontologically unsupportable, and it is unfair to lump all those who believe in Santa in with the first-graders.
According to the wealth of dense, scholarly, and unpopular literature on the subject, the true nature of Santa Claus is not something as crude as a jolly old elf, nor even as an entity separate from one’s parents. It would be more accurate to say that Santa Claus is the spirit of giving, who reveals himself most clearly in acts of gift-giving around the northern winter solstice.
Militant asantaists may object that there is no evidence that Santa gives gifts to parents to deliver to children. This is the Santaist Parentist (SP) position, and while we cannot exclude such an interpretation a priori, it is not necessary to a proper appreciation of Santa.
It is as good or better to give than to receive, and such generosity is in itself a gift. Thus Santa is at once the gift given, the gift received, and the spirit of giving. These three parts are distinct, yet inseparable from each other, sharing a common essence. Those who clamor for “evidence” for Santa Claus are on a fool’s quest, for Santa is not a material being, and no such evidence can exist which would satisfy the hard-core asantaist. There is no point pointing at studies showing that letters to Santa are answered at a rate no better than chance. When I write a letter to Santa, it is not a request for a particular gift—though it may take that form—but rather communion with the spirit of giving, and gifts, and Christmas.
A proper understanding of the true nature of Santa leads to a deeper and richer understanding of Christmas stories such as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and classic TV specials like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. No one seriously believes that these stories are anything but Santa-inspired multi-layered allegories told in a manner understandable by children. And when I give someone a gift, the experience is much more rewarding with the understanding that while I was the one who picked, bought, and wrapped the gift, I was nonetheless moved by the spirit of Santa Claus in accordance with his wishes for his grand Christmas design.
(Update, Dec. 29, 2007: Turns out I wasn’t kidding.)