Santa Claus, a late legend and story about Christmas giving, is a feature of December in much of the western world.   What do we make of this imaginary figure and its role in the lives of children and adults — and in culture?  From the roly-poly white-haired man, to elves and reindeer, Santa is a commercial as well as cultural figure.  Here are some thoughts about Santa.

Santa Claus, this psychiatrist says, is a dangerous sentimental father-figure, who is expected to satisfy ‘‘unreasonable wants,’’ and who by that very expectation delays the ‘‘necessary adjustment of the preadolescent child to the world of reality.’’

— Alistair Cooke, 1952 broadcast

Santa Claus wears a Red Suit,
He must be a communist.
And a beard and long hair,
Must be a pacifist.
What’s in that pipe that he’s smoking?

— Arlo Guthrie

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exists, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

— Charles Dana, New York Sun editorial, 21 September 1897, in response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon

Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

— Charles Dana, New York Sun editorial, 21 September 1897, in response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon

On a busy day twenty-two thousand people come to visit Santa, and I was told that it is an elf’s lot to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind.

— David Sedaris, SantaLand Diaries

I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white man would be coming into my neighborhood after dark.

— Dick Gregory

Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.

— H. L. Mencken

During much of the Paleolithic, reindeer were a primary food source for Eurasians, but judging by the relative scarcity of their representations in cave paintings, they were not as highly respected as aurochs, horses, and bison. They don’t seem to have been deemed sacred. By the time domestication commenced, that attitude had changed, as evidenced by the Bronze Age megaliths depicting flying reindeer — a motif that still figures prominently in the religion of contemporary Siberian tribes such as the Evenki and Eveny. Some believe that Santa’s flying reindeer ultimately derive from these myths. I don’t, but I have been called Scrooge more than once.

— Richard C. Francis

I have been investigating the science of Christmas for more than a decade. When I first began to take an interest in the subject, I was unprepared for the breadth and depth of the insights that would eventually emerge. Take those flying reindeer, Santa’s red and white color scheme, and his jolly disposition, for example. They are all probably linked to the use of a hallucinogenic toadstool in ancient rituals.

— Roger Highfield, The Physics of Christmas

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when my mother took me to see him in a department store, and he asked for my autograph.

— Shirley Temple

Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we’ll be seeing six or seven.

— W. C. Fields
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