December 19, 2009 by  

thumbIrresistible:For a moment, you wonder whether he is Branson in a scarlet robe, shooting a Virgin Atlantic Airways campaign in Rovaniemi, Finland. But reality kicks in when the flashbulb pops: you have to fork out 35 euros to the elf for the privilege of having posed with Saint Nick on digital Polaroid! That’s the power (sigh) of Brand Santa, which today entails giving, not getting, coins, from Father Christmas in Finland.

“What an idea Sirji !” you might protest in favour of Santa who goes bump in the night with his overstuffed sack and his overstretched paunch. “Nobody asked you to pose with St Nick in Finlandia. You posed, therefore you pay.”

Come to think of it, Santa may actually have done you a favour by sitting (for the) still. Imagine how many households he might have visited in the time you took for the snap! Had he come down to your parlour and asked you to pose for a photo-op with him, you might have been within your rights to expect some greenbacks in exchange from the bearded senior citizen posing as a scarlet chimneysweep.

Also imagine he could as well have flown to the other side of the world, to cavort on a golden beach with other scantily-clad denizens, senior or otherwise. For, as British artist Raymond Briggs shows in his award-winning graphic novel, Father Christmas, Santa is a grumpy, but lovable, old man who has to go all over the world, which is happily enjoying a holiday, only to deliver gifts and presents in all that snow, sleet and hail while trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible.

In Briggs’ comic, Santa does complain incessantly about the ‘blooming snow’ . But you would too if you had to wrangle that team of wilful reindeer, don’t forget the red-nosed one. Imagine, just to deliver a parcel marked with an X and holly wreath to some poor kid who believes with all her spirit in every kind of magical thing like Santa or the angel dropping the very gift she wanted in her torn stocking.

To be fair, the cartoonist also drops copious hints about the golden heart that lurks beneath the deceptively curmudgeonly exterior. It is that prospect of sudden, rousing kindness in a chaotic churn of numbing coldness that encapsulates the spirit of Christmas for adults and children alike. For as Guy Finley, the bestselling author of spiritual books says, “The true depth and breadth of the heart is measured not only by what it can hold, but also by how willing it is to let go (and give freely and fearlessly).”

That is exactly what Santa does: he brings cheer to a planet that’s been waiting for an eternity for the good news – Hark! The Light of the World has been born at last: in a holy manger, in the silent night, in the holy night, when “all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child” , sings Joseph Mohr’s famous Christmas carol, translated into English from the German by John Young. “Holy infant, so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Does it matter if we ‘believe’ or not in the power of this holy miracle of the light? Some scholars have spoken of December 25 as being a Natalis Invicti or “the birthday of the unconquered one” . That invincible one is supposed to be Sol Invictus or the Sun. But don’t forget Jesus Christ has also been called “the Sun of Righteousness” and his life “the light of men” .

December 25 also happens to be the Roman date for the winter solstice with the first detectable lengthening of daylight hours. So, does that rob Christmas of its jollity and merry spirit today? Not really. That’s because, long ago, Christmas turned into a meme, a benign mind virus that spread across cultures like wild fire.

It’s another matter that the power of these memes can also be harnessed, hijacked or parodied for a variety of purposes – yobbish behaviour on the pretext of Christmas festivities, for example; or serial shopoholism and reactionary rejection of piety as displayed by Grinch, the cartoon character created by Dr Seuss in How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In sweet contrast stands Santa Claus
, a wholesome ‘who’ that is not a ‘what’ like the green-eyed prankster. But even his cold heart is unable to resist the redemptive power of Jesus Christ’s nativity in Nazareth: in Ron Howard’s movie version, the Grinch gets back his childhood sweetheart ; he is accepted back into society and all of Whoville goes up to the Grinch’s cave on Mt Crumpi for a sumptuous feast.

Merry Christmas and Bon Appetit to you too!

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