Santa Claus is not a god… yet
“Why Santa Claus is Not a God”
This academic paper makes a very good case that Santa Claus is not a god. Here’s the abstract:
Through the lenses of cognitive science of religion, successful god concepts must possess a number of features. God concepts must be (1) counterintuitive, (2) an intentional agent, (3) possessing strategic information, (4) able to act in the human world in detectable ways and (5) capable of motivating behaviors that reinforce belief. That Santa Claus appears to be only inconsistently represented as having all five requisite features Santa has failed to develop a community of true believers and cult. Nevertheless, Santa concepts approximate a successful god concept more closely than other widespread cultural characters such as Mickey Mouse and the Tooth Fairy, in part explaining Santa’s relative cultural prominence.
It’s a charming paper. Here are some memorable quotes:
Compare an invisible buffalo to an invisible buffalo that is immortal, made of steel, experiences time backwards, fails to exist on Saturdays, gains nourishment from ideas, and gives birth to kittens. The invisible buffalo has a single counterintuitive property (invisibility) whereas the latter buffalo can hardly be considered a buffalo at all.
If an invisible potato is a good candidate for a god concept, clearly being minimally counterintuitive is not enough.
Well, maybe a god for children.
To my amateur eyes, Santa Claus meets the aforementioned criteria for godhood.
For now, I’m only going to respond to the paper’s counterintuitiveness claims because this essay was supposed to be short and fun. But in my humble opinion, this essay became something neither short nor fun (despite my best efforts).
To remain “minimally counterintuitive”, a god needs believers. For many people, the best proof of Jesus Christ’s existence is the large quantity of Christians. Likewise, Zeus is an unpopular god today because he has few worshippers.
There exist 23.4 million children under age 6 in the US. Compare this population to the ~150,000 adults who worship Zoroaster. Both Yulefolk and Zoroastrians have motivating behaviors that reinforce belief, but peer-effects limit growth.
Research idea: is Santa effective? I didn’t find this paper convincing. Somebody should compare winter quiz scores of Yulefolk children against children of Jewish/Muslim/JW/etc families.
Unsurprisingly, one’s choice of gods strongly correlates with geography. Zoroaster is an Iranian phenomenon. But if gods can be space-oriented, why not time-oriented? Santa Claus is a phase of youth.
To dismiss a god of children is unfair to everybody who was ever a child.
Santa Claus deserves to be taken seriously by adults too.
Claus cults are viable for adults.
Santa Claus is real but misunderstood. There exist countless closeted Clausians who know the truth about Christmas.
Please ignore Poe’s Law and consider the great Christmas conspiracy, as revealed to me by a nameless elf:
- “Elves” are extraterrestrial scouts sent here by the intergalactic union. They use advanced technology to hide themselves while observing Earth. Elves stunt scientific research of hostile civilations to prevent them from becoming space-faring. At this very moment, intergalactic committees deliberate whether humanity will continue probation or be admitted into the union. The whole of humanity sits on a naughty/nice list between other scrutinized species.
- Elves are prohibited from making direct contact with humans, but Earth expeditions are quite dull compared to other planets. Many elves entertain themselves by prodding humans with small puzzles, e.g. hiding car keys and sabotaging printers.
- Because the intergalactic union only adopts “moral” species, all elves are ultimately share similar principles of right/wrong. Many elves engage in “karmic” vigilante justice.
- Rogue elves occasionally disguise themselves as angels, fairies, aliens, etc. to speed up progress or “see what happens”.
- ~1,600 years ago, the intergalactic union chose Saint Nicholas of Myra (a.k.a. Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus) to join various intergalactic committees. Elves value compassionate ruses, so his “secret gifts” made him wildly popular amongst the scouts on Earth.
- Thanks to advanced extraterrestrial medicine, Nicholas continues to advocate for humanity on an icy planet in a nearby solar system. Whenever he gets opportunities to visit Earth, he uses all the technology at his disposal to make our planet a better place with kinder people.
- Holidays like Christmas and Saint Nicholas Day honor Nicholas’s legacy. The best way to celebrate the holidays is to perform secret acts of kindness.