The Problem with Santa Movies

I love Santa Claus, I have since I was a child. I love what he stands for: generosity, anticipation, joy, imagination, magic, and even hard work. I remember the excitement that I would have waiting and wondering about his wondrous arrival on those Christmas Eves when I was a little boy. And my little boy shares that excitement today as we prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth. Now of course, there are many that see a disconnect between the Feast of the Nativity and Santa Claus. We have the religious understanding of the Holy Day and the commercial traditions of the holiday. I’ll get to my thoughts on Santa movies in a moment, but first allow me to explore the types of Christmas merry makers. And just to avoid making this click bait, I’ll share the problem now so you can decide whether or not you want to continue reading. Christmas always happens and never needs to be “saved.”

I believe there are three categories of people that celebrate Christmas, and this is probably on a sliding scale for what it’s worth. First we have those who talk about the true meaning of Christmas above all. “Jesus is the reason for the season, and Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper sticker displaying church going Christians. At the far end of this scale there is no room for Santa. He’s the height of the commercial holiday industry made popular by Coca Cola and has no place at the stable. On the other end of the scale, I’m not talking about Grinch’s or Scrooges because this is about those who DO celebrate Christmas. Typically, this group really doesn’t acknowledge the birth of Christ in any way. However, the holiday is about gift exchanges, family gatherings, Christmas music, and all the trappings that come with it. It’s about celebrating all the good things without thinking about why or where they come from. And then we have the group that pretty much lives in the middle. Christmas is about remembering that miraculous night in Bethlehem but is celebrated with all the adopted and “baptized” Christmas decor and fanfare that is also celebrated in the malls and on the Hallmark channel. Many in this category might not hesitate to display a kneeling Santa in their nativity scene.

So what’s this have to do with Santa movies? First off, I believe that many Santa shows (and Christmas movies in general) tend to live in that second category. It’s Christmas without Christ. This wasn’t always the case. Many older Christmas movies did nod to the true meaning of Christmas with a comment here or there or mention of attending midnight Mass. But most modern Santa movies certainly steer away from making any connection. However, that’s not my issue, not entirely anyway. (I personally thought The Christmas Chronicles 2 did a great job and I may review that movie in a separate post). I don’t really have a problem with songs and movies celebrating the other aspects of Christmas because it still brings the joy and the spirit of Christmas to both believers and non-believers alike. It’s like a code for Christians in the form of good wholesome entertainment for everyone else. Because honestly the holiday movies are, more often than not, ultimately about goodness and joy and doing the right thing. Our family watches Elf every year and while it’s a corny Christmas movie, the story itself is about the relationship between a father and son and the love of family. (and the son I”m talking about really isn’t Buddy.) So why the title of this article?

A good deal of Santa movies involve something happening to Santa and either children or elves having to scramble in order to save Santa and therefore save Christmas. I’m always surprised of how often the big guy in red ends up in jail. And while it’s often fun and action packed, it really makes no sense no matter where you fall on the scale. Christmas doesn’t exist because of Santa. Even parents of kids who wait in anticipation of Santa bringing gifts teach them that Christmas is more than what’s under the tree. (Hopefully I would think). And I don’t even mean the religious part for those who aren’t there. It’s about family and love and even sharing gifts with one another. For most of the world, Santa has very little if anything to do with this great day. It’s a fun tradition but in my opinion, the need to save Christmas trope has gotten a little old. In fact, an older Christmas story which has had a few cinematic interpretations got it right some time ago. Dr. Seuss tells a story of a certain Grinch who thought as these movie writers did. If he undid everything that Santa was rumored to do, namely take away all the gifts and commercial trappings, then Christmas would be no more. And by all definitions, the Grinch succeeded in his plan! He pulled it off without a hitch! But of course, (SPOILER ALERT!) Christmas just went on as if nothing changed. And he realized that truth. The decor and presents and even Santa are a way of celebrating this wonderful day but certainly don’t define or control it.

So if anyone is afraid that Christmas is ever in danger, just remember that classic story. And really it’s quite the opposite of what the movies say.

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