There are still people in our politically challenged, sharply divided country to whom the “Spirit of Christmas” is still a very magical thing.
happened to be in attendance at a school in Chester last week during a visit to first-grade students by Santa Claus. The kids were 98 percent Black. Santa was 100 percent white. And you know what? Nobody cared.
When the old dude with the white beard and red suit walked into the classroom, the kids from one of the country’s most economically depressed cities, lit up like, well... a Christmas tree. They literally couldn’t contain themselves. What was clearly evident was the pure joy on each of their faces at seeing the guy who was about to make the holiday happier for them. They sang “Jingle Bells” to him; he “ho-ho-ho’ed” right back in their faces … and they loved it.
The old guy’s assistants (who happened to be the kids’ teachers, on days when they themselves weren’t decked out in green and red, and wearing floppy hats with white balls on the top) started to pass out beautifully wrapped gifts – one for each of the youngsters. The kids were completely ecstatic. They bounced in their seats, they held their faces in glee.
One little girl volunteered to an onlooker that this was “the very first time she had ever seen Santa Claus,” in real life. Another child pointedly asked Santa, without raising his hand for permission, where the reindeer were.
This was about as real and as honest as it ever gets.
Still another, more introspective, young man, toward the back of the room, started to wonder out loud if he was actually entitled to receive a gift, at all, given, by his own admission, that he had done a few “naughty” things over the past year. To his great delight, Santa “tightened him up” anyway.
There were shrieks of total satisfaction when the youngsters ripped the carefully applied Christmas wrappings from their Barbie dolls, game sets and GI Joes. The most commonly heard phrase repeated by the little ones was “This was just what I wanted!” A few of the braver kids actually ran right up to Santa, grabbed him by an arm or a leg and thanked him personally.
By this point, any sane adult in the room wanted to cry at seeing just how happy this one situation, on this one day, had made these totally innocent, and certainly deserving, children.
As I wiped one of my own tears away … quickly, so that no one really noticed, I began to reflect about the whole “Christmas thing,” about the importance of children and about their complete belief in what we tell them … up to a point. I also thought about how sad it was that we adults, just like clockwork, are eventually so successful in making these babies as unbelieving, cynical and nontrusting as we grownups are in this country.
How do we do that? Let me count the ways.
When I talked to my friends after the Santa Claus visit, one of the first questions was: “Did they have a Black Santa Claus?”
On an intellectual and cultural level, I knew it was a valid question. It always is … for grownups. But what came crashing home to me last week was that the babies, who only wanted to enjoy a moment when they could enjoy their major fantasy, be happy and take home a precious gift, absolutely did not care about that.
As difficult as it was for a long-time activist like me to come to grips with, I have now fully realized that the race of Santa Claus only really matters to those of us who have to bear the adult burdens of racism, economic disparities and societal divisions.
Let’s spare the kids all of that for as long as we can. If a white Santa visits Black kids, if a Black Santa visits white kids, if an Asian Santa visits Hispanic kids, so be it. Trust me, without adults telling youngsters how “inappropriate” that all is, they won’t mind. They’ll be too busy smiling. I saw it with my own eyes. The Christmas season with all of its cultural, religious ideological complexities, still really is for the babies. Yet, we too often want to rush them into our world, to take away, far too soon, their time of total innocence and their willingness to fully appreciate kind acts without the need to question a giver’s motives.
There’s more: As a former banker, a large part of my cynicism about the “holiday” was that I had realized early on that there was absolutely no proof that Jesus Christ actually had been born on, or about, the 25th of December.
I also realized that there is a strong belief that the day had been selected by retailers who were interested in clearing out their inventories with a special promotional push, prior to the close of their books on Dec. 31, the end of the fiscal year.
True or not, coincidence or not, it was a slick idea when it was originated, and still is today. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 20 percent of annual retail sales last year took place during the Christmas holidays, and for some retailers, the “season” constituted 25 to 40 percent of their annual goods sold. Do the young people care about this at all? They don’t know, and trust me, they don’t care.
Finally, in this age of political correctness, the Christmas season, curiously, provides us just one more opportunity to reflect on our differences, and we adults are delighted to do so, and to leap at the opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a respected fact that the idea of Christmas harks back to a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Complicating that, however, is the fact that our country is now, more than ever, composed of millions of people who aren’t Christian at all.
In years past, come early December, folks would confidently shout out to friends, relatives and passersby: “Merry Christmas!” They would place mangers and images of Santa, himself in their work places. You can’t do that, now.
We have all grown terribly, excessively, sensitive to even the remote possibility that we might, by wanting to spread the Christmas spirit, offend somebody.
Instead of “Merry Christmas,” we responsible adults have increasingly been trained to say, “Happy holidays.” Instead of Christmas cards, we now send generic “Season’s Greetings.” I guess we don’t buy Christmas trees anymore. Those things by now are probably called “holiday trees,” or “season’s trees,” or just plain old pines.
Here’s my take on that: Maybe we should all just lighten up! Maybe those of us who believe in Christmas should feel comfortable in sharing that spirit and those greetings, without reservation. Maybe our Jewish friends, who believe in Hanukkah, should feel equally comfortable in expressing the joys of that particular season to those who happen not to be Jewish. The same should apply, of course, to our Muslim, Hindu or Yoruba friends, or those who believe in Kwanzaa.
Rather than take umbrage at innocent expressions of seasonal goodwill, maybe we should just roll with it, not be offended, and take full advantage of the opportunities to learn more about cultures and celebrations about which we have not been familiar.
God knows we need it.
This year let’s take a cue from the little ones and let’s spare them, as long as possible, from having to adapt to our own curmudgeonly lifestyles.
Life’s hard enough as it is.
And, hey, before I forget: “Merry Christmas!”
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.