TWO weeks ago a geography teacher named Leatrice Eng from Rockland County, New York was almost lynched (metaphorically) when she told a classroom of second graders that Santa didn’t exist.
The students said they knew about the North Pole because that was where Santa lived, and Ms. Eng responded by saying that wasn’t true and it was their parents putting presents under the tree. There was outrage in the community and Ms. Eng has now apologised and called all the parents involved to make amends.
Now before I comment on this fascinating situation, it is worth looking at a little history. The primary inspiration for Santa is Saint Nicholas of Myra (now in Turkey).
He was famous for his generosity to the poor, particularly known for providing a dowry to three girls to get married so they would not have to go into prostitution.
This tradition of gifts was carried through mostly Germanic and Dutch festivals under the name “Sinterklaas”, but was earlier in December and not associated with the birth of Jesus.
There was a particular transformation of this figure in 1931 by a graphic artist named Haddon Sundblom who worked for Coca-Cola at the time. He came up with the big man in red as a commercial strategy to sell more soft drink. Thus the modern commercial and consumerist Christmas was born, not in a manger, but in an office in Atlanta, Georgia.
What interesting questions these two situations raise. Firstly, is it good to present a parental and cultural lie for the sake of false happiness? To be sure, a great number of children get joy from Santa, but would it really be detrimental if they knew it was their parents who were the ones blessing them instead of hope in a shallow corporate creation? I think that perhaps this could even strengthen the family, which is clearly in need at a time in the year with the highest rates of conflict and breakdown.
Secondly, is it right for a figure (in this case the geography teacher) to be publically shamed for telling a statement of undisputed truth?
Sure people have different beliefs around this time of year, but it would be difficult to find an adult who actually holds that Santa doesn’t exist. Therefore, if it is a clear lie that is exposed, is the individual to blame or is it the society that should examine the plank in its own eye?
I think this point is particularly important as I close this article and risk the ire of parents all over Canberra. All I can say in my defence is bah, humbug and have a Merry Christmas remembering the reason for the season.
Nick Jensen is the ACT director of the Australian Christian Lobby