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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: