After my last post, some readers might think of me as Scrooge: “Don’t buy anything—bah humbug!” But that’s not the case at all. I grew up in a family that loved Christmas: going out on a wintry day to cut down a tree at a tree farm, giving and receiving presents, singing carols, going to Christmas Eve service, feasting with the family. Christmas was definitely one of the best days of the year. And as an eco-naïve, happy child living in a consumer culture, I knew nothing about the environmental or social side effects of my Christmas ritual.
But according to a new “exposé,” the effects of Christmas may be worse than I thought! This year’s “Family Guy” Christmas television special reveals that Santa is near death because of the gift demands that people around the world put on him. Even worse, Santa’s Workshop has become a polluted factory drowning in toxic waste, his reindeer have morphed into vicious beasts, and his elven workers are now mutants due to the forced inbreeding necessary to raise the elf population high enough to keep up with all the work.
The good news in this cartoon portrayal of Christmas is that Santa ultimately is saved by everyone agreeing to “sacrifice” to help his cause—limiting themselves to just one present each so that he and his elves can manage. (Perhaps more realistic, of course, would have been one present per household—the other benefit of this being an additional degree of family interaction as parents and children discuss what Santa should bring them to share and enjoy.)
You can watch the entire episode here (if you’re in the U.S.). But be warned: it’s a racy and violent cartoon—and very funny! (And if you want to skip to the best part, just jump to 23min 20sec to learn about the horrific conditions at the North Pole.)
Ultimately, this holiday spoof suggests two important points for me. First, of course, is that we need to reshape Christmas on a personal level—in a way that allows us to savor the magical and memorable elements of this ritual, such as by hunting the woods for a Christmas branch (instead of going to a Christmas tree farm), by exchanging services, homemade gifts, and charitable acts (instead of store-bought, sweatshop-made stuff that’ll break in three months), and so on. But second, and more importantly, we need to transform the myth of Santa Claus—probably not in the way that the creator of “Family Guy” did, but with the same end result: get the broader public to change their expectations of Christmas.
One theme that I’ve started to see relates to climate change: like the very-real polar bears of our planet’s north, Santa is in danger of losing his North Pole home due to a melting ice cap. A clever poster from Greece, for example, encourages people to “Save Santa from Climate Change.” In another effort, a few years back, Victoria Perla wrote a children’s book, “When Santa Turned Green,” which describes Santa’s efforts to keep winter and the North Pole frozen by dealing with climate change. This is a great tweaking of the Santa myth—as is a parallel effort that offers an online game area to get kids to help the elves save electricity to keep the North Pole cold (and Santa’s sleigh runway solid).
Ultimately, however, we’ll need a much deeper reworking of the Santa myth (just as the current version was originally a reworking of the traditional St. Nicholas story, and over time was built into the modern day myth, driven in large part by department stores and Coca-Cola). One friend of mine has a great idea for a potential new story of Santa Claus that both reduces consumeristic tendencies and cultivates a deeper connection with nature—but I won’t share it here since she’s working to develop a children’s book that, 50 years from now, will hopefully be the standard way to tell the Santa myth. (Though if any publishers are reading this and want to invest in a new culture-changing book project, let me know and I’ll connect you….)
So, take a look at these greener versions of the Santa story and share these ideas with your children. Let them know that Santa needs their help, and see if they’re willing to save him and his elves by having a simpler, greener Christmas holiday. Ho Ho Ho!