As someone who learned English from watching TV, wrote a Master’s Thesis about TV, then worked in TV, I feel I can say with certainty that Christmas specials, be they rip-offs (sorry, homages) of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” or “Miracle on 34th Street,” all share a common message: Nonbelievers Snooze, Nonbelievers Lose.
Now, would that be non-believers in Christ? Nah. What does he have to do with anything? TV is talking about non-believers in Santa (or his designated representative, The Christmas Spirit). TV kids (and adults) who believe in Santa get all their wishes answered. Like that episode of “Silver Spoons” where Ricky Shroder’s friend was homeless and living in a cave with his family and then woke up Christmas morning to find a bright, shining tree all decked out with presents. (Finding a place to plug a string of lights inside a cave seems like the true Christmas miracle to me, but what do I know?) Or, for the youngsters among you, remember that episode of “Glee” where Brittany believed in Santa Claus and wished for Artie to walk again and Christmas morning brought him robotic legs (which, fun fact, are made in Israel)?
And those who don’t believe, well, you deserve whatever you’ve got coming. (Or not coming, as the case may be.) It’s got to be true. I saw it on TV.
Do the nice people who make television, and its near-mandatory Christmas episodes, realize that’s the message they’re sending? Are they doing it deliberately?
I don’t think so, and no, they aren’t.
I sincerely think the show’s creators are under the impression that they’re presenting a universal message about the value of faith, hope, and believing in miracles (hey, that last one is almost Hanukkah-ish, isn’t it? If you squint a little?).
Some of the best stuff on TV might very well be an ecumenical Christmas show. But, as the saying goes: Would you want your kid to watch one?
Because I take television and its subliminal messages a lot more seriously than most (for the record, I see “Bewitched” as an intermarriage parable with Darrin basically forbidding Sam from practicing and passing on her culture to their children; and don’t get me started on Disney’s “A.N.T. Farm” where all the kids at the special school are gifted or talented except for the one black boy. Really? Seriously?) I suspect I’ve given the subject of my three kids and their December TV viewing a lot more thought than most.
Fortunately, my kids simply don’t watch that much TV, which makes the decision a lot easier. (My oldest is applying to high school this year, so he is constantly studying, my 3rd grader is teaching himself computer programming in the hopes of one day becoming James Bond’s Q, and my kindergartner would rather line up her dolls and stuffed animals while she drills them on letters and numbers under the guise of Circle Time.)
But, they do watch some. And, after much consideration, I’ve decided a Christmas episode here and there is nothing to get worked up over. So what if the underlying message is that belief in Santa leads to prosperity, happiness, robotic legs, and electric outlets in caves? The special itself is probably surrounded by even more blatant and misleading messages like telling kids that Pop-Tarts are fruit, video games are a form of exercise, and Mommy and Daddy’s love is directly proportional to the size of your wintertime gift.
In other words, I tell my kids not to believe anything they see or hear on TV.
“Not even the news, Mama?”
“Especially not the news.”
As for Santa Claus himself, who is he, really?
Well, he’s a Dutch legend possibly based on a 4th century Greek bishop, whose current Western visage was primarily crafted by an 1823 poem and subsequently commercialized by, among others, Frank L. Baum, creator of that other internationally renowned figure, The Wizard of Oz.
In other words, Santa Claus is pretend. Like the Wizard is pretend. Like Darth Vader and Big Bird and Cinderella and Diego are pretend. They’re merely stories people tell to entertain children–and to sneak in a moral when they hope no one is looking. But, just like I don’t expect my kids to start rescuing endangered animals in the wild with only a cheetah for company, I don’t think Santa will do them much long-term harm, either.
Will they feel cheated if they think Santa Claus is coming down everyone’s chimney but theirs? Will they wonder if it’s because they weren’t good enough boys and girls? Will it damage them for life? Will it make them run out and embrace the New Testament?
The world is full of temptations and short-cuts and get-rich quick schemes. It’s full of false prophets and false promises and people who claim to have all the answers with no work or money down. Everyone has to begin learning to sift through the charlatans and finding their own truths, no matter what other people say or popular opinion may suggest.
Santa Claus actually seems like a pretty logical place to start.
For more on Jews and Christmas, read about the December Dilemma, how to lose the chip on your shoulder during Christmas, and a Christmas lesson from one Jewish little boy.