Bob's Links and Rants

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Bah, Humbug!

Michelle links to this story about a guy, Tom Gates, in Santa Fe, Texas, who is selling his house and 6.5 acre lot because his property taxes have been raised to $2000 a month. Commercial pressures have apparently raised property values. But Gates is well known in Santa Fe for his elaborate Christmas decorations:
For the past eight years, Gates created what many consider Santa Fe’s unofficial holiday display. With more than 300,000 lights, Gates turns his 6.5-acre property into a winter wonderland, complete with Santa, reindeer, toy soldiers and a sleigh.
My first thought, of course, was that Gates probably could have afforded the property taxes if he hadn't been spending all his money on lights and plastic sculptures and the electricity to run them all. But he apparently had some good intentions:
It’s ironic, said Gates, adding that he started his Christmas display as a way to offer an alternative to what he considers to be the commercialism of the holiday.

“You go to the mall and pay $10 just to have your kid’s picture taken with Santa,” said Gates, who hires his own Santa each weekend for his display. “It’s supposed to be the season honoring giving, and all these people are just taking.”

Gates doesn’t charge anyone to come see the display or have a picture taken with Santa. In fact, any money offered is given to HIS Ministries in Santa Fe to assist that organization in its efforts to feed the needy.
Now, I don't want to pick on Mr. Gates too much. He is trying to share Christmas joy and feed the hungry. But a 300,000-light display is an "alternative" to commercialism? A free Santa is better than a $10 Santa--how nice for poor kids to have the opportunity to beg for stuff they won't be getting, and then feel guilty because they must have been "naughty."

No, I don't hate Christmas. But I do hate Santa Claus. I remember as a little kid I figured out pretty early on that it was all a lie (the Santas I encountered looked suspiciously like my father or a neighbor). And rather than pick on other kids for still believing a lie, I would argue with my parents that no kid should be set up like that. How are kids supposed to trust their parents when they catch them early on in such an obvious lie? I mean, any reasonably intelligent three-year-old can see that there are more Santas in just one mall than there are in the story. And all this stuff about toys being rewards for being "nice?" Just training for consumerism--"I 'deserve' this G.I. Joe or Barbie or DVD player or Porsche."

Let's summarize the Santa story:
  • It's a lie you are expected to believe. The perfect preparation for living in 21st-century America!
  • You are being watched constantly. Also, perfect preparation for living in 21st-century America.
  • If you have lots of stuff, you are "nice." If you don't, you are "naughty."
  • Santa is part of the celebration of the birth of a supreme anti-materialist. Much of the Christian message is that God will provide, naughty or nice. Santa's message is about as anti-Christian as could be imagined.
I remember what Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb said when he was here a few months ago (paraphrased):
The most important developmental steps in childhood are learning to walk and learning to talk. And what's the first thing children are told when they get to school? "Sit down and shut up!"
Our system, from Santa to schools, is not designed to develop good people. It is designed to develop obedient people, consumers, Bush voters. And it's working.

And Mr. Gates, with his good intentions and all, is willing to spend thousands of dollars on his Christmas schlock and "free" Santa to help feed the hungry, but balks at supporting a local government which could and should be able to do a much better job of it. It's more important to him that those poor kids have a Santa to beg to than a decent school to attend. Ain't that America?