Is Santa stealing Christmas?

Published 12:27 am Friday, December 10, 2010

Cars streamed by the lowly manger at the corner of Union and Jefferson streets Thursday night.

Mary cuddled her plastic baby and Joseph shivered in the shelter covered in black plastic.

A few cars honked and a couple of drivers waved as they drove through the intersection.

Email newsletter signup

Few people parked and walked in an effort to be the first to see the savior of the world.

They didn’t wait in line clutching their $10 bills to pay to have their photograph taken with the one true light.

There was no line Thursday night and there will probably not be a line tonight or Saturday night, either.

Of course at the mall and numerous other places across the Miss-Lou, long lines trail behind small elves and a man dressed in red and white. This man once was a follower of that tiny baby in the manger. Maybe he still is, but you might have a hard time telling it these days.

These days Santa Claus has become big business, not just for the local shopping mall, but also for school parent teacher associations and other organizations that are searching for ways to raise funds. It seems that everywhere you turn these days, Santa Claus is waiting to have his picture taken for a price.

Before you think I am a Scrooge, let me explain these Christmas grumblings. I don’t have a problem with Santa Claus and the notion that Christmas is celebrated by the giving of gifts, and I don’t have a problem with those organizations that invite the community to see Santa for free and share in the spirit of season.

I share in Francis Church’s response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlan when he answered the little girl’s questions about Santa’s existence. Like Church, I believe Santa Claus exists “certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.”

Without Santa, “It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence,” Church wrote in an 1897 editorial for the New York Sun.

Unfortunately, that Santa Claus rarely shows his head these days.

In most cases Santa has become more of a way to get money than the symbol Church wrote about in the 1800s.

A recent visit to a local school hammered this home as I watched children get their picture taken with Santa.

As the classes filed in, students were divided into two groups — those who paid to have their picture with Santa and those who did not.

Those who didn’t pay watched from the back of the room as the other children sat one by one in Santa’s lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas. Many of those who didn’t pay didn’t get so much as a handshake with the man in red before they were whisked back to class. In one case, a teacher directed her students who didn’t pay back to class before they could barely wave at the jolly old elf.

What message does this send to children? Christmas can be yours as long as you pay for it?

Doesn’t sound like the Christmas that God intended more than 2,000 year ago.

There must be something wrong when the reason for this holiday — Jesus Christ’s birth — is overshadowed by a jolly old elf that pressures some parents into buying many more gifts than they can afford and their children really need.

What does it say when we as a society take thousands, maybe millions more photographs of babies sitting in Santa’s lap than we do of the baby lying in the manger? When was the last time you had a picture with baby Jesus?

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at