Friday, December 18, 2009

Stalker Santa

We were listening to the Christmas song radio station the other day in the car, and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" came on for the zillionth time. It has a catchy tune (and I really love the version by The Jackson 5), so I was singing along. Ryan remarked, "That song kind of freaks me out."

You know what? That song, despite its cheerful and very singable melody, freaked me out as a kid, too. Why? Because the lyrics are really creepy:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness' sake!
O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town


Yes, an integral part of the Santa legend is his famous List of Naughty and Nice. Does anyone know the origins of the Naughty & Nice List? Because it just occurred to me that maybe there was no mention of a List in the early St. Nicholas/Kris Kringle stories, that somebody (probably a parent) decided that it might be a good idea to make the gifts SC gives to the kids a reward for good behavior instead of just because he's a benevolent fellow who wants children to get toys.

Anyway, back to the song. This song takes The List part of the legend and makes Santa Claus out to be more of a stalker than a nice guy who happens to drive a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.

Without any prelude whatsoever, you, the listener, are admonished, and apparently on the verge of being in Really Big Trouble:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town


Very Wait 'til your Father Gets Home, isn't it? Now here comes The List:

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town


Next, we move on to the most disturbing part of the song, where we learn that Santa is actually a Peeping Tom:

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!


HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU'RE SLEEPING? HE KNOWS WHEN YOU'RE AWAKE? If there was really a guy like that "coming to town," I'd seek a restraining order. But that's just me.

Also, isn't there an inherent contradiction here? Am I supposed to be good for goodness' sake, or am I supposed to be good because Santa is coming to town and is watching me and will not give me presents unless I'm good? Should I be good on principle, or because of others? Very confusing.

The song ends with a repetition of the original warning: You better watch out!!!! And, There's no crying in Christmas!!!! Just to make good and sure you know what you're supposed to do.

Yes, this is kind of a creepy song if you think about it. Actually, as a child, I was so worried about the fact that Santa could "see" me, that I hid behind my bedroom door when getting dressed and undressed, because I didn't want him to see my underwear. I really did!

So Ryan and I had a nice little chat about the song and Santa, and we decided that we didn't think the Santa in this song matched up very well to the Santa of the legend.

Don't EVEN get me started about The Elf on the Shelf, which takes the stalker aspect of Santa to a whole new level. (Whoops, I just got started, so here we go!) I heard about this from another parent at TKD.

The book comes with an elf doll, and you're supposed to name him and sort of make him a member of your family. He sits in a prominent place in the home, supposedly to watch your behavior. Every night he goes back to the North Pole and reports your behavior to Santa. Then he comes back before you wake up each day. Mom and Dad are supposed to put the elf in a different place every night, to make it look like he really moved. Ooooohh!

The mom who told me about this thought it was just the best idea ever for getting her kids to behave. Imagine it, though, from a child's perspective--here's this guy with a personal "in" with the Man in Red. You take the elf into your home and love him and make him part of your family. Only he watches you every second (He sees you when you're sleeping! He knows when you're awake!), and then he rats you out to Santa every night after you go to bed. Seriously?

Needless to say, we'll skip Ratfink on the Shelf and just focus on being good for goodness' sake.

21 comments:

Monica said...

Ratfink! HAHA! Love it.

Monica said...

Ha. Check out these reviews: "evil little spy". I love it.

http://www.amazon.com/Elf-Shelf-Christmas-Tradition-Gift/product-reviews/B000XR6MBQ/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar

Bill Brown said...

Assuming that your various questions weren't rhetorical, it appears that the original inspiration--Saint Nicholas--put coins in the shoes of people that put them out. It went through a bunch of modifications and it was the Americans who turned him into a gift giver for children.

It seems like you're seeing the legend through an anti-reward prism, when in fact it is quite a nice moral tale: the good is rewarded and the bad is punished. Santa Claus seems like a paragon of justice whereas giving kids gift whether they're good or bad strikes me as monstrous.

Am I supposed to be good for goodness' sake, or am I supposed to be good because Santa is coming to town

You're being too literal. It's a use of the expression "for goodness' sake" and an admonishment to stay on the good list.

If you want to be thankful that the whole constellation of legends isn't true, you need look no further than the Krampus.

Mrs. C said...

This is the most hilarious post ever!! LOL!!

Ardsgaine said...

Santa Claus seems like a paragon of justice whereas giving kids gift whether they're good or bad strikes me as monstrous.

Christmas is a celebration of the love we have for each other. My children would have to be so irredeemably evil that I couldn't love them anymore before I would deny them Christmas. Thankfully, the bad things they do are pretty minor, and don't deserve that kind of reaction.

Bill Brown said...

I was referring to Santa Claus as a morality tale.

Kelly Elmore said...

I wouldn't want Santa of the morality tale. Honestly, he sounds a little like an ex of mine who doesn't take the whole context of a person into account and bases his love of that person on each and every little thing they do.
Anybody who would judge little children on how well they ate their veggies, whether they cried or not, and how "nice" (polite to grown-ups, probably) they are and then withdraw presents from them and give them switches and ashes (another part of the old tale) sounds like a prick to me. We would stop up the chimney and put spikes on the roof, if that jerk was likely to come here. Lucky for us, the Santa who does the job around here loves my child, and while he wants her to behave because it will help her in life, has no desire to make our family into two teams (those who are being watched and trained vs. those who are ready to punish or reward). Instead, we all work on our behavior together, and we all get presents, not cause we are "good", but because we love each other and want the others to be happy. The world already has too many crappy morality tales in the damn bible.

Ansley said...

I've been troubled by this song for weeks! Many thanks to Ryan for inspiring you to write about it. And I love what Kelly said too...y'all are awesome.

Valda Redfern said...

I never noticed the words of the song. Seeing them printed out, I remember that that's pretty much why I didn't like God when I was a child (well, that and all the Old Testament stories I was taught at Sunday School).

Yes, the lyrics are creepy. And the elf on the shelf - ghastly!

Valda Redfern said...

Great catch on that song. The lines I most dislike are "You better not cry/ Better not pout" - doesn't these encourage emotional repression?!

However I don't think the phrase "being good for goodness' sake" captures what you wish to instill. Virtue, after all, is not its own reward - virtue is what's required to live well, which I think is what you're actually teaching.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Monica, those reviews were hysterical!

As a point of clarification, I was deliberately being literal with the "goodness' sake"--for the sake of being clever and making a joke. :o)

And I really am wondering where the Naughty & Nice List came from.

As far as seeing the legend through my point of view--yes, it's true. I can't not do that.

As Valda discerned in the above comment, we actually do NOT tell our kids to be good for goodness' sake (again, kinda making a clever joke for the post there). And we also do not tell them to be good so that they will be rewarded by others (magical or real) who have judged their behavior.

Certainly being good (that is, living virtuously) IS rewarding--and the reward for moral behavior is one's own happiness. This is a basic tenet of Objectivism, as many reading this comment thread are no doubt aware. This is something I am hoping my kids are beginning to understand.

So when I find examples of stories or songs or legends or living people or what-have-you that directly contradict my thinking, then I must judge it as such. This song, Elf on the Shelf, and some other aspects of the Santa legend directly contradict the values/virtues that I try to live my life by, and what I'm trying to help my children understand.

Despite its catchy tune, the words are creepy, and the idea of Santa as a harbinger of justice is not benevolent. In a way, I'm kind of proud of Ryan for being freaked out by it, because that tells me he is understanding something of the things I've been sharing with him.

Thanks again!

Rational Jenn said...

Sigh. Harbinger is not the correct word, I know. I wrote it, wanted to change it, and then got distracted.

A better way to say it might be "Santa as Judge, Jury & Executioner" = not good. And not fun.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Wow.

We don't do the Christmas thing at all, no tree, no presents, no Santa Claus. As Adam Sandler says, instead of just one day . . . we have eight crazy nights. And on our eight crazy nights everybody gets a present or a treat or a turn. The morality tale we tell is about the freedom to be who we are.

And so, although I hear the relentless muzack-like carols and songs at the grocery store and in other public places,. I have never truly paid attention to the lyrics. But I thought all the Christmas revelers did. Now I know that they tend to be just as oblivious as I am!

This was truly funny. I am thinking you could turn it into a Fractured Fairy Tale a la http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYiCM35V7_w . It would be wickedly funny!

Bill Brown said...

You are not alone in your concerns as this hilarious Wondermark cartoon illustrates.

Rational Jenn said...

Bill--THAT is hysterical! :o)

Rational Jenn said...

Elisheva--love the Fractured Fairy Tale idea. I used to love those!

Daniel said...

It'd be nice to know what Ryan found creepy about that song.

Given that most kids have a fundamentally good view of themselves (and relish seeing others get their just deserts), I'd place high odds that the creepy experience resulted from the idea of someone always watching him.

I myself don't find anything creepy about people getting good things for being good and others getting bad things for being bad. It's called justice.

Given that most parents have a fundamentally good view of their kids, I'd also place high odds that they don't like the idea of this list as owing, not to the idea that they will have to give their kids coal, but to their acceptance of some version of Christian ethics.

Actually, Peikoff names this as one of the reasons Christians denounce Santa, because his list implicitly rejects their moral code.

"[He is not] a champion of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for justice -- Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones."

The other parts of the song are admittedly a bit creepy--something that would probably be instantly and humorously obvious to all if the song had a different tune!

Nevertheless, the part of the story where Santa gives great things to those who deserve it is itself, within a proper context, great.

That context of course includes understanding and perhaps explaining why a kid is important and valuable to his parents--whether he eats his veggies the whole week before Christmas or not.

Rational Jenn said...

Oh, Ryan definitely found the Stalker aspect of the song creepy. Although he did wonder aloud about The List, and why Santa would only give presents to the good little boys and girls. I told him that's part of the legend, that Santa's job is to reward good behavior with presents. He was less concerned about The List than the Stalker thing--but they are intertwined in the song, and *I* take issue with both aspects.

But we also talked about how that's not how we do things in our house. (They have never been told that Santa is real.) We talked about (over many conversations having to do with Santa, over the last few years) how we (my husband and I) give them gifts as a way to show how much we love them, and because it's fun for us to see them enjoying their gifts.

To make it clear--I'm all over teaching kids about justice, good, and bad, etc. We do that ALL THE TIME. However, we do not teach them that their good behavior is rewarded *by others*. We try to help them see when their own rightful actions result in good; when they behave morally, they are rewarding themselves (and vice versa). Examples of this are: eating healthy food means you feel strong and stay healthy. Saying you're sorry to someone you've wronged helps rectify the situation (and helps you feel better, too). Taking responsibility for things results in a feeling of pride.

So while, yes, Santa is a kind of bringer of justice, he is not really an embodiment of what we're trying to teach our kids. That true happiness and self-worth will come from moral behavior (over time, sometimes) and good life-affirming choices. True happiness will not result in being rewarded by others.

The more I consider the matter, the more I think the act of giving gifts to loved ones (during holidays or on birthdays or whenever) might be more of an expression of Integrity. Gift-giving is a benevolent way of demonstrating to someone "I value you and your happiness."

From VOS (via the Lexicon):

[Integrity] is the policy of acting in accordance with one’s values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality.

That very much sums up my intentions and feelings about giving my kids presents on Christmas. I do not do it as a reward for their good behavior, but as an expression of my love for them.

Daniel said...

The concept of "justice"--within the context of relationships--means identifying a person for what he is, using every relevant fact available, and acting accordingly.

This includes a parent identifying certain traits in their children that make them entirely lovable--traits such as the seriousness with which they set upon the task of learning how this world works; their independent, (sometimes brutally) honest evaluations of nearly everything; and their generally benevolent view of this world and the place they (expect to) have in it.

It involves acting according to these identifications (and many more), while identifying that certain facts (such as whether they've eaten their veggies lately) aren't relevant here, and it involves clearly identifying that one's response to these characteristics is love.

"Love," Ayn Rand identified, "is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another."

Justice also requires acting accordingly, which here means a parent showing their love in simple ways throughout the year and perhaps on special days (like Christmas) giving gifts--as an expression of the love their kids have earned and because, like you said, it's fun to see one's kids happily enjoying something.

In the same way that your love for your kids is a reward, using a standard definition for that term, even though you disagree with it, I also think you show your kids that good behavior is rewarded by others, even though you may teach the opposite.

Again, if the concept of "reward" is used in the sense that Rand used it above, "to reward" means "to recompense" and a "reward" is--as I have defined it recently--"something given or received in response to or recompense for some action."

You may not agree with this definition, but so defined, every "thank you" given your child is spiritual payment for an action taken, as is every smile you give them in response to some achievement of theirs that fills you with happiness, as is your very love for them (let alone the holiday gifts that are but one expression of it).

This is long, so rather than state the material rewards that are equivalent to the spiritual ones noted above, I should say that I think rewarding in this way is an entirely good thing.

Kids need to learn how to evaluate others and how to respond to good and bad actions (or people) in a proper fashion. A child who learns what justice is and how to apply it has a tool for living that'll help him make many good choices in the future, in response to the "rewards" of others.

And all this is true whether he wants to live in a bubble or not, whether they do so from a standard he chooses or not, and so on.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Daniel! Thank you for another thoughtful response. I have enjoyed our exchanges very much! :o)

I don't have too much time to write, but I wanted to say one thing quickly. I do intend to return to this thread (probably broken out into a post) at some point soon (but I don't know when I'll have the time to do that).

I think I agree with what you wrote, that expressions of love (tangible or intangible) are forms of spiritual repayment, and in that sense are rewarding. And yes, I think this is necessary in any human relationship that is valued, including with children. In fact, that is why I try to be so careful in HOW I say the things I say to my children--mean old mommies can deflate a person's spirit in a serious way.

But my anti-reward stance is specific to a certain context--that of showing and encouraging and motivating my kids to make good choices. I think that in order for them to grow up with a proper sense of rational self-interest, they need to have direct, firsthand experience with the consequences (good and bad) of their choices. When I must get in the way of their firsthand experience (in cases of extreme harm, for example), I am very conscious of having to do that, and I explain the reasons for my actions, so that they can see the tie to reality.

Now, if they make a good choice ("I'm eating all of my veggies!"), then I will share the happiness I feel about that--because I AM happy when they make good decisions. So I might smile or say "Hooray for brushing your teeth!" Or do a dance. Or break out into Opera. Or jump up and down and give them a hug. (I really am a fun mommy most of the time.)

But I stop short at creating charts where they can earn stars for good behavior, or bribing them with money, or expressing an enthusiasm or other emotion I don't actually feel ("cheerleading"), etc. THAT kind of rewarding is what I advocate against, not the kind you described in your comment.

I'm still considering this all the time, how to explain my thoughts on this since it's very confusing. But I want my interactions with them to be genuine, and where they can possibly learn the value of making good decisions without artificial manipulation by me (and I think they can in most, if not all, situations), then I do not want to provide an extrinsic (and artificial) motivation where an instrinsic (and genuine, even if not fully appreciated) will do. And I strive to stay as disengaged as possible from their firsthand experiences with reality and the consequences of their own decisions so that they get as much direct experience as possible (and yet remain safe and healthy).

More to come, and thanks! Merry Christmas!

David Buchner said...

The main reason I haven't even tried to do the Santa thing is that I'd be *terrible* at it. I just couldn't keep up the lie convincingly. It would be a lame attempt.