capitalism, John McGuckin

Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and a Priest

From the BBC:

Priest ‘ruins Christmas’ for kids

A Catholic priest has been criticised by parents in a city in northern Italy for telling their children that Father Christmas does not really exist.

Father Dino Bottino, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Novara, let out the secret at a children’s mass earlier this month.

A local paper published complaints from dozens of parents. “You’ve ruined my children’s Christmas,” said one mother.
But an unrepentant Fr Bottino called it his duty to set the record straight.

“I told the children that Father Christmas was an invention that had nothing to do with the Christian Christmas story,” he said.
“And I would repeat it again, if I had the chance,” he added.

But Father Dino could not have imagined the scorn that would be heaped upon him after he told children at mass that neither Father Christmas – nor the kindly witch called the Befana who provides presents at New Year to Italian children – really exist.

The priest said he had never intended to hurt anyone, but it was his duty to distinguish the reality of Jesus from the story of Father Christmas which was a fable just like Cinderella or Snow White.

Fr. Bottino is mostly right. The current incarnation of Father Christmas isn’t Saint Nick. In fact, he is a racist stereotype. I did a post on this by way of Professor John McGuckin last February, but it why not mention it in season?

McGuckin did an op-ed piece for the NY Times that only sketched part of his inauguration lecture just over a year ago. I highly recommend the lecture, as the op-ed is less detailed. A plus is that McGuckin is a great lecturer, so the brief address will go all too quickly.

As for the short op-ed piece, McGuckin touches on areas that are sometimes left to the margins in relation to the capitalistic aping of the church. To list the subjects off, he hits on: race; slavery (sexual); preferential option for the poor; uses “feminist history” (that is, focusing on the females in history, which is not limited to females of power, but generally the opposite because historically females in western history didn’t en-mass have much power); the corporation’s use of the church (turning from the poor to the rich); and infuses the entire text with “iconic” images – with “icon” functioning on two levels, one as the colloquial term for icon and a second as the ecclesial idea of icon; and he finally even brings in the idea of saints. He does all this in a very short time, and without the text becoming unwieldy. I think this might be too smart for the New York Times.

Implied in the piece, I would venture to say, is that American capitalistic advertising is the bastardizing of ecclesial iconography (and the saints as well) – one of the highest forms of Christian art. The term simulacrum comes to mind. I’m also suspicious that the reason the west doesn’t see the conflict is because we have an aesthetic vacuum.

One last interesting observation. Often Christianity is blamed for absorbing other religions, or at least pagan religious holidays; however, in this case, it was Coca-Cola that infused the now common conception of Santa with an Odin like figure – a patriarchal god of the dark sky. Hows that for a parting bit of information to chew on?

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