I recently found myself wondering about the lack of Santa Claus in the modern holiday season. Obviously, he’s not disappeared entirely — he’s a constant presence in seasonal advertisements and reruns of favorite holiday specials — but as a cultural figure, it almost seems like he’s lost his grip on the holiday zeitgeist.
Once upon a time, he’d show up everywhere — if he wasn’t making guest appearances on Christmas episodes of television shows or drawing crowds at shopping malls across the world, he’d be appearing in his own major motion pictures like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The Santa Clause (pictured) or the boldly-titled Santa Claus: The Movie. Despite his North Pole address, Santa Claus was hot.
These days, of course, that’s just not the case. The last “big” Santa movie wasn’t even really a movie where Santa was a lead character, although 2003’s Elf does at least make a point of emphasizing how important he is to the Greater Good. The man has been reduced to cameos at the end of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and little else. What happened?
It may be that Santa just doesn’t work for today’s audiences. Somehow, today’s audiences just don’t respond to good guys doing good things because they’re good guys — and Santa is one of the most obvious examples of that idea. We’ve seen this kind of thing before; this year saw Superman — Superman, for crying out loud — given a morally ambiguous makeover in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, with brand new angst and confusion over his role in his father’s death, after all. The answer, then, is obvious: It’s clearly time to reboot Father Christmas.
First off, let’s get rid of that name. “Father Christmas” worked when the idea of parental figures was comforting, but these days it might put people off by sounding too old. As soon as advertisements started telling consumers that their product was good because it wasn’t like something your father would own, the days of Father Cool were numbered. Instead of trying to come up with some awkward, ill-fitting attempts to replace the “Father” title with something else (“Daddy Christmas”? “Mister Christmas”? “Christmas Dude”? All terrible), let’s just do away with that particular name altogether; that way, you can also separate him from the concept of Christmas that little bit more, and help sell him to the non-religious out there.
Secondly, it’s finally time to reveal Santa’s secret origin. For too long, people have had no insight into what possible horrific trauma could created a man who feels compelled to spend every Christmas Eve trying to give presents to children across the planet, and as such successful reboots as Man of Steel, The Amazing Spider-Man, Star Trek and Batman Begins have demonstrated, the only way to truly get audiences on board any hero’s journey is to start at the very painful beginning.
Tell us about his childhood with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and let us learn just what lessons they shared about the true meaning of Christmas! Personally, I’m imagining at least one Christmas when Santa didn’t get any presents — let’s say that his father was too busy working down the coal mine (Bad kids get coal, see?) to make it happen; his mom would be dead, because dead parents always lend an air of poignancy, a la Star Trek, Man of Steel et al — and swore with one solitary tear that, as long as he lived, all the good little girls and boys across the world would get presents on Christmas Eve.
Of course, with all of this revisions of Santa’s central mythology, we’ll have to ensure that his wife gets a makeover, as well. Mrs. Claus, the supportive wife who ensures that her husband’s work gets done every year just doesn’t fit in with what people can believe in these days. Let’s make her Santa’s on-again, off-again girlfriend — they can date, but both be confused about their feelings towards each other. She’ll need a new name, but we can throw in an Easter Egg or two for fans of the original Santa… Maybe call her Kristina Kringle, a manic literal-pixie dream girl with plans and dreams of her own that, somehow, will keep the two apart until the sequel at least.
Will all of this be enough to convince people that Santa isn’t some kind of impossible abstract ideal that they could never empathize with? It’s possible — although maybe he should be forced to strangle the Krampus during some life or death moment to show that, hey, he can make mistakes like anyone else. If that doesn’t work, though, all isn’t lost. After all, we still have Rudolf, Agent of S.A.N.T.A up our seasonal sleeves.