I have a friend who makes fun of the stories that repeat every year on local news stations. His favorites are "Grocery scanners rip you off!" and "Our blacklight shows hotel comforters are dirty!" My personal favorite annual story is the one where someone trusted in the commmunity accidentally blasphemes Santa by questioning his existence. I mentioned before that I think I might be the one American among the masses who celebrate Christmas who never believed in Santa Claus -- so that may be part of why I am so intrigued by stories like this. But consider also this passage from Dell DeChant's fascinating book The Sacred Santa:
Santa is not the embodiment of secular "commercialism." He is the embodiment of our culture's greatest religious myth: the myth of success and affluence, right engagement with the economy, and the acquisition and consumption of images and objects. Santa is the incarnation of this myth. For this very reason he functions as a profoundly religious figure in our postmodern cosmological culture. This reason may also account for his seeming immunity to criticism from a religion still following the cultural logic of a previous time. In short, Santa is not secular. He is sacred. To attack him as secular is to attack his shadow.
Now consider last year's cautionary tale to those who might break orthodox teaching on Santa. It came from an extremely unlikely perpetrator and place, a priest at St. Pius X school in Whittier, CA.
Yes, Virginia, there really is no Santa Claus.
That's what a priest at St. Pius X School here told students as young as 5 during morning Mass last week, causing a furor among parents who claim the priest overstepped his boundaries by speaking so frankly about the much-loved Christmas figure.
During the Mass, school officials admit, the Rev. Ruben Rocha repeatedly told the students in grades kindergarten through third that there is no Santa Claus.
So it was major news that a priest at a Roman Catholic school taught something true from the pulpit. This year, according to CNN, it's Chris Rock, or his Everybody Hates Chris show, at least:
"Everybody knows there's no Santa Claus," Drew said to Tonya on the UPN sitcom. "Come here, let me show you something. I'm taking you to the toys ... Santa doesn't come down the chimney. We don't even have a chimney. We have radiators."
Disillusioned, she stomps out of the room.
But wait. It gets worse.
Put on the spot, Tonya's dad Julius tells her the Easter bunny and tooth fairy don't exist, either.
The story describes the network as "blindsided." I just find it so odd that children's belief in Santa is such a widely-held cultural belief that reporters run stories about people telling part of the truth about him.