I was watching the stop-motion rankin-bass Christmas special called
"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" where they give the long backstory of
how Kris Kringle fought the Burgomeister Meisterburger and became Santa
Claus, and it's a pretty good movie but the part where Kris marries
Jessica is pretty annoying.
Because after the part where the
Narrator says "they couldn't find a priest so they stood before the Lord
in the woods" I thought okay, fine, that's a little touch of religion
there, a little spice, and THEN the movie plays entire verse of a
Christian hymn about Jesus. That was the part that threw me off because
I've grown up with the idea of Christmas having two halves: The actual
Christian part with a church service and scripture readings about
prophecies, SEPARATE FROM the Santa Claus stuff. Like, the Angel Gabriel
does not say "Ho ho ho merry Christmas" and Santa Claus does not sing
"Come and behold him born the king of Angels". There's the religious
half and there's the Traditional Festivities half which was always kind
of secular anyway -- Ebenezer Scrooge never mentions Jesus as far as I know --
but it got a lot more secular over the 20th century. People have grown up watching TV Christmas Specials of all kinds that never ONCE mention Jesus. Some people even call those kinds of movies "Santa Clausmas".
So it's kind of jarring to have a Santa Clausmas movie go Full Christian
even for half a second. I get that the efforts to secularize Christmas
haven't ever worked well but...Santa Claus is the central figure for the
secular part. He replaces Jesus as the main character for the sake of
shopping malls being able to plaster Christmas stuff everywhere. If a
Santa story gets too much Christianity involved then it feels weird.
Santa doesn't know who Jesus is and the whole Nativity story is a lot
more sincere and spiritual than a Santa story can handle.
this movie was made in the early 1970s and I think that was a time when
White folks in America still assumed everyone was Christian, to the
point of still letting it intrude more into the secular side of
Christmas. There was a time not very long ago when people asked after
someone's personal name by saying "your Christian name", in reference to
baptism (Christening) at birth which used to be the time a kid got their
name recorded for legal purposes. What do you say to that if you're
Jewish? "Please let me flee Spain as long as I leave all my gold
behind", I guess.
And the song "Santa Clause Lane" from 20 years
before this movie ends with "Let's give thanks to the Lord of Hope
'cause Santa Claus comes tonight."
And "Charlie Brown Christmas"
has a bit near the end where Linus stands on stage and talks about the
true meaning of Christmas by quoting an entire Bible passage.
Still, the fact that secular Christmas movies have to always ask "gee
what's the true meaning of Christmas" like they have no goddamn clue
about the Birth Of The Savior makes it seem like people are really trying to
keep the two sides of the holiday separate in popular culture. So having
a Santa Claus movie interrupted for undiluted Christianity goes quite
against what I'm familiar with.
Linus gets away with his bible
verse because it's a dignified moment, nobody tries to make it more than
it is, and Linus is weird anyway. But the thing that really makes it
work is that Charlie Brown Christmas captures the moment in America when
people began to realize that their traditional festivities had lost the
more obvious traces of religion. Charlie Brown's entire complaint about
the holiday is that it's become too commercialized and less sincere.
That's why Linus is throwing a bible passage at him in the first place,
to remind him where the holiday comes from, as if he needs a reminder.
It's also why the idea of promoting Christmas as a secular holiday
still doesn't work very well, because no matter how much Santa goes HO
HO HO everyone knows why the holiday exists and who it's for.
So what I think when I see a Santa Claus movie mention Christianity is "Shh! Don't say the quiet part out loud!"