“Mommy… someone at school said Santa wasn’t real.” My little brother stares up at my mother with big green eyes- eyes full of unspoken pleas for some other answer than what he knows to be true deep in his seven-year old gut. “She said that mommies and daddies are Santa.”
I halt on my path around my brother and mother and set down my bowl of Cheez-Its. I’m all of ten years old at this point, but I already have a pretty keen sense for what’s going to make an interesting story. Little did I know how formative the conversation about to occur around my old kitchen table would prove to be.
Mom stares sadly at Jeff for a moment before responding. “Well sweetie… she was right. We are Santa Claus.”
Jeff looks as if he’s been struck in the back of his head with the full weight of adulthood. “But then… what about the Easter Bunny?!” He whimpers.
Mom sees where this is going and sighs. “That’s us too, honey.”
“…And the Tooth Fairy?”
“Us too…” Mom’s face had grown somber with the loss of so many of Jeff’s pantheon. However, he wasn’t done killing deities.
Jeff took a deep breath, lowered his gaze to the floor, then through the floor, seconds later resting his eyes on Mom again. “What about God?”
I dropped the handful of crackers I had brought to my mouth. Mom stared in horror and shock at her little boy. She stammered out a few partially coherent attempts at an explanation. She had no words of comfort to give Jeff- no good answer. The pillars of his understanding of metaphysics had crumbled and toppled the almighty Himself along with them.
Over the years, I have associated with many interesting minds, the majority of whom happen to be either atheistic or agnostic in their belief in metaphysical elements at play in the formation and maintenance of reality. Whenever these friends’ lack of faith is brought up in conversation, I enjoy recalling the story of Jeff’s Santa Claus discovery. It amazes me how often my tale sparks a mirrored memory in the minds of my companions. A giant rabbit and a jolly old man seem to be killing the Christian God in so many children’s minds. What is going on? How have such seemingly innocent traditions gained such faith altering powers? What the hell did chocolate eggs have to do with crucifixion? My theory is simple- the elder gods are angry.
In the early days of the Catholic church, conversion rates dipped when certain tribes were encountered. In order to ease the process of shifting deities, certain Bishops and men of power within the organization enacted alterations to the stories and traditions of the Christian people (Christianity). The meme amoeba of Christendom survived and grew by morphing the worldview of the ranks of its recently converted followers. In the process, the movement itself was mutated in several different directions at once. Where the tearing proved strongest amongst the tribes, different sects of Christianity formed. Lutherans, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox members- all formed as the result of great schisms within a hitherto uniform story (Schism). The story itself would prove to be flexible enough to allow for a great deal of embellishment in certain parts prior to schisming, thus temporarily avoiding widespread die-offs within its ranks of followers.
Let’s be honest, even to a devout Christian, certain specific (and crucial) elements of any one of the many distinct cultures found on Earth cannot be found fully expressed through Catholic scripture. The closest thing to a fertility goddess the Bible presents is a teenage virgin mother figure... now I have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon theme stuck in my head. Distractions aside, it stands to reason that any Pagan tribesman would have extreme difficulty accepting a faith lacking a fertility goddess figure. After all, he would have grown up his entire life believing Eostre had allowed for his existence through her continued efforts to keep his world having sex with itself (Eostre). This would be a concrete reality in his mind. His Pagan grandparents would have been worshipping her as she was an ancient concept brought north to what would one day become Europe by travelers from ancient Babylonia, where they proudly worshipped Ishtar- the sacred prostitute-goddess of love, war, fertility and sexuality (Ishtar).
Ishtar, Eostre- these names are nearly familiar, right? Any Easter reveler pays these goddesses a sidelong tribute whenever they eat a marshmallow chick or read tales of a giant bunny hiding candy-filled eggs in their backyards. After all, Easter itself is just a seasonal junction on a solar calendar marked by festivals. Easter designates the beginning of the season of fertility- when everything is green, screwing, or both.
What about Santa? Current theories place the jolly old elf’s original form as Odin Allfather, the head of the Norse pantheon. In the darkest nights of northern hemisphere winters, Odin leaves gifts in order to spread Yuletide merriment and remind his faithful that the winter equinox was upon them and long, warm days were indeed on their way (Christmas).
When I was a child, my parents read stories to me and my little brother every night before bed. Some nights we’d hear stories from our Precious Moments Bible about Jesus turning water into wine, or Noah gathering two of every animal into a really big boat. Some nights we heard tales of giants atop beanstalks or little girls outsmarting anthropomorphic wolves. Two conflicting narratives were fed to us during the holiday seasons. In one, a nice old man with a workshop full of elves gave us presents to comfort us during the coldest of times and remind us that a giant rabbit was going to give us candy soon, whenever the weather turned a bit more pleasant. In the other story, a mean old god realizes he’s being too mean so he knocks up a virgin and she gives birth in a barn. That little boy grows up to be nailed to a board because we’ve all been bad. Which story is a better candidate for a Caldecott children’s literature award? For me and my brother, faith in the better story held up faith in the other.
I propose that our modern cultural meme generator has done something amazing. The old traditions, when absorbed into the Judeo-Christian mythos, did not wither and die, as was the original intent of our priestly ancestors. Instead, these metaphor-rich concepts lay dormant until the time was right for them to rise again and topple their persecutor, through the mind of one clever child at a time. Odin is Santa. The Easter Bunny is Ishtar. When they die in the mind of an observant kid, they drag Jesus’ dad with them.
"Christianity and Paganism." Wikipedia . Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 06 Apr.
”Christmas gift-bringer.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Feb. 2016. Web. 06 Apr.
"Eostre." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
"Ishtar." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
"Schism." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.