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Santa Claus: A champion of civil disobedience

It’s hard not to mourn the extent to which the origin of Christmas is lost in the orgy of holiday shopping. One veteran of the peace movement recently told me that she even hoped a judge would expedite her case and let her serve the month in jail that she is expecting for a previous action now, so that she could escape the madness.

While we must always use this time to remind folks that this holiday is ultimately a celebration of the birth of Jesus – who not only taught the gospel of nonviolence, but perfectly embodied his teaching to “love your enemies” by voluntarily dying on the cross – a fascinating article in The Cowl, Providence College’s student newspaper, recently alerted me of another connection between Christmas and nonviolence that should be highlighted.

The 1970 classic stop motion film, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, could actually be seen as a story of nonviolent resistance. As Tim Fleming recounts:

…it’s the movie that tells the story of Santa Claus from start to finish. It explains how he chose to enter homes via chimneys and how one man can be named Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, and Saint Nick at the same time. The birth of the Christmas stocking is explained, and Winter Warlock is introduced as the in-charge director of seasonal cold and snow. However, as I watched this film with my eight-year-old sister I couldn’t help but think that we were viewing, for all intents and purposes, different films. For her the movie was about the history of Christmas, but I saw something different. It’s possible that my being a global studies major had influenced this perceived difference but I saw a case study in Yuletide civil disobedience.

Unfortunately for the children of Little Sombertown, toys had been outlawed by the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger. This unjust decree was enacted on the basis that toys do not foster civil productivity, but instead lead to laziness, dependence, and in the worst case scenario, a healthy imagination. Kris Kringle, however, will not stand for such intolerable rules. He is told over and over that his practices of delivering toys on “the holiest day of the year,” Christ’s birthday, are morally, socially, and lawfully wrong, yet he refuses to cease and desist as his orders prescribe. When he no longer can work in the daylight because of the law, he continues under the cover of night. When he can no longer walk freely through the front doors of houses, he resorts to chimneys. He starts stuffing socks with small toys to hide them from the Burgermeister’s guards when they begin searching houses. In my eyes Kris Kringle was one of the original champions of civil disobedience.