On The Hidden Pagan Meaning Of Santa Claus

Via Verso Books, McKenzie Wark defends Christmas in fantastic fashion:

Xmas is pagan, and this is what places it outside of Jewish and Christian understandings, of gifts, of aesthetics, of time. Christians understood its power and tried to coopt it. But the Christian version distorts it by tying it to the birth of their sacrificial savior. The pagan way is about understanding excess in and of itself, not as compensation for sacrifice.

What is essential to Xmas: there is a tree, and a gift for a child under a tree, that is “from Santa.” For the child, Xmas has nothing to do with ‘consumerism’. The gift just appears. Its a bit of what the surrealists called the marvelous. For the adult, it is a way to give to the child without expecting the child to be grateful to the parent. Rather, it is so the child can know that world itself could be generous. Nothing is owed in return. At least not yet. Later, the child can be let in on the secret: that we are staging a marvelous ritual about how the world itself could be experienced as bounty and plentitude, but we do so in a long loop through the generations.

That the critique of Xmas as ‘consumerism’ is a pseudo-critique is easily seen. What is supposedly wrong is the ‘excessive’ consumption of Xmas. This lets supposedly normal consumption off the hook. Genuine critique would of course start from the reverse premise: Only excessive consumption is of any interest because it is outside the realm of calculation. So-called ‘normal’ consumption is what calls for critique. The purely excessive, aesthetic consumption, the gift from nowhere, is the only defensible form, and not only of consumption, but also of the gift.

The true ‘spirit of Xmas’ is no spirit at all, but a material share of the world, offering itself, apparently unbidden, to the child. It is a modern version of an ancient idea, elaborating itself for a post-Christian world. It is the artifice of the real itself. The tree is not only a sign of nature as gift, it is itself the gift. Neither lack nor sign is at the heart of this ritual. This lack of lack is the great scandal of Xmas. This is the pagan core that has to be erased or denied, or declared ‘secular’.

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  • Heath

    All this time i thought he just liked pickling kids, whilst dancing around in a stocking, all in his Saintly glory.