Santa Claus as we know him today is primarily a hybrid created from the drawings of cartoonist Thomas Nast, Coca–Cola advertising and the description proffered by Clement Moore in his holiday poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” but much better known today as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Before his transformation into the fat jolly old elf we recognize today, the bearer of Christmas gifts for most of the English speaking world was personified by Father Christmas. And before the Kinks had him beaten up in song, Father Christmas was a
slightly taller, less rotund figure thought to be based on a 4th Century bishop known as Nicholas who was held in high esteem for his acts of charity. Nicholas was imprisoned for his Christian beliefs by the Roman Emperor Diocletian but before he could become another martyr he was released by the newly converted Constantine. A cult of celebrity grew organically out of Nicholas’ charity toward the needy and especially kids and his sainthood was honored with a day set aside for remembrance in early December.
The transformation from actual historical personage to possible urban legend about a guy who flies around the world guided by a team of reindeer invested with the ability to kick gravity to the curb remains something of a mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed into a fruitcake. What is becoming clearer with almost each passing year is that there is a whole lot about the whole Santaverse that we were not privy to. Just as the “Pentagon Papers” exposed the reality behind the Vietnam War so have some very challenging investigative docudramas revealed some heretofore unknown facts about the fat guy up North Pole way.
“Fred Claus” exposed the secret family dysfunction within the Kringle clan. Who knew that Santa had a slacker brother, much less that he was an older brother? “Fred Claus” provides one of the richest portrayals of Santa on film with Paul Giamatti’s brilliantly delineated portrait of a baby in the family who got everything except the one thing he wanted most: the undying love of his big bud. Vince Vaughn once again proves he can play depth without giving into bathos like Robin Williams. “Fred Claus” provides a portrait of a city of magical elves a little too disturbingly close to something you might have seen in Detroit 50 years ago, but therein lies the crux.
Even more shocking than the fact that Santa has a brother is the fact that immortality isn’t part of the deal. “The Santa Clause” provides an acceptable alternative to the rather less believable concept that Mr. Claus can live forever with that body shape just asking for a heart attack. The legal mumbo jumbo is appropriately abstruse and subject to argument, but if you learn nothing else from this movie series, you should hold fast to this realization: don’t go out looking to see what happened if you think you heard Santa get into some trouble on your roof!
Santa and Jesus
Bart Simpson infamously observed that all too often we forget the true meaning of Christmas: observing the birth of Santa. A little known animated movie titled “Christmas is Here Again” at last manages to connect the birth of Jesus with the fat guy in the red suit. The big secret of Santa revealed in this movie is the biggest shocker of them all: that all–important and magical sack in which Claus carries around all those toys was crafted from nothing less than the swaddling clothes made for the Baby Jesus!