I have been doing a lot of thinking lately (which is almost never a good thing.) I have decided that I have overstated the religious significance of Christmas. We all know that those old stories were told long ago, and just what significance a family of Palestinian refugees of a couple of millenia ago might have for us today is, well, tenuous. But if Christmas is not about baby Jesus in a manger or traveling wise men, then just what is it all about? There is only one answer, dear friends, and that is Santa Claus.
I think I am safe in assuming that all of my readers have had “the talk” and are well aware of what Santa Claus is all about. Yes, we tell our children that he is about bringing presents to good little boys and girls all over the world. Bzzzzzt. I’m sorry, but the answer we were looking for is COMMERCE! The truth is that Santa Claus is a master pitchman, and has been for a very long time.
Come on now, let us not be naive. How do you really think Santa funds his operation? It might have been possible for Santa, Mrs. Claus and a few elves to run things as a privately held benevolent society in George Washington’s day, but things have changed. There are not many kids in today’s world who would be perfectly happy with nothing but a fresh orange on Christmas morning.
Santa seems to have started dabbling in merchandising in the second half of the nineteenth century. A little side deal pitching the products of a certain maker of footwear for the genteel must have been quite a lucrative little sideline in the off season.
The endorsement must have been successful for him, because he was soon hawking more popular goods like candy
and soap. Cleanliness is next to . . . well, never mind.
It wasn’t long before Santa Claus recognized that he had tapped into the mother lode of Christmas, as commercial and industrial activity took over from an earlier era of artisans and craftsmen. Those small-timers could never afford the level of celebrity that Mr. Claus could bring to the table by the dawn of the twentieth century.
For example, the automobile industry was one of Santa’s earliest sources of big clients. Today, we see Mercedes-Benz vehicles fly out of showrooms every December because of The Big Guy’s masterful sales methods on television. Less well known is that Santa was moving the metal from the earliest days of the car game. And it was only good business to latch onto what was probably the only auto manufacturer who also specialized in small arms. Something for everyone!
By the 1920s, the pitch had evolved to an appeal to just stop buying all of that worthless crap for the kids and put that money towards a new six cylinder Overland, already. What joy for the whole family all year long to watch Dad drive off to work in it.
As time went on, the pitch became more subtle. For example, Santa employed what I think of as the infinite influence loop. The kid asks Santa for a Plymouth for his Dad. Santa runs it in print. Then more kids ask for more Plymouths, and pretty soon the Chrysler Corporation was counting cash and smiling at Santa’s oh-so-reasonable commission. The spirit of Christmas is all about giving, right?
But there is no real money just selling cars. Consumer products of all kinds became part of the porfolio. We think of Donald Trump as being the master of merchandising his name, but The Donald has nothing on Old St. Nick. What brilliance – complete happiness for all concerned. The family gets a wagonload of household products and everyone benefits, from the makers of those fine products to the credit card companies. Of course, we must not forget Santa himself. A Win-Win-Win-Win, am I right?
What was perhaps Santa’s most brilliant marketing decision was to get out of child and family-centered campaigns and go after where the real money is found – adult vice! Santa also figured out early that only fools tie themselves to exclusive deals. When you are the most sought-after celebrity at the end of every year, endorse for every competitor! I would bet that Santa hasn’t had to buy a pack of cigarettes at retail since 1924.
And of course, not every guy wants to restrict himself to cigarettes. Santa has a smoke for everyone.
And something to light it with. Nobody ever said that Santa Claus failed cover all of the merchandising bases.
Huge sums are spent every year on alcohol and tobacco, and Santa has long been right there with everything the adults need to make it through this season of secular joy.
Of course, everyone needs some food to go along with the free-flowing drinks.
Along with something to cook it in. Crafty old Santa, I wonder how much of that $4.90 he got out of those poor husbands who were stuck for the perfect gift for the Mrs?
For those who get their Christmas joys in other ways, Santa shows that he knows his way around with the ladies, too. What attractive woman would not consider this big old softie the bees knees? OK, a fabulously rich and generous big old softie.
Then there are also those who would want to get just as far away from the lecherous old man in the red suit as possible. And what better way to do so than by train? But never fear, Santa is here to sell you the tickets, as well as to provide a little on-board entertainment. The genius of the whole enterprise is the way Santa has been able to make himself all things to all people. Although it might be best not to let your young daughter go into the club car by herself.
Truly, this guy is the ACME Company of the advertising world, with a reach into every segment of every market out there. If it sells, Santa has undoubtedly sold it. That he has undoubtedly cashed in while doing so makes him the perfect spokesman for the spirit of Christmas, don’t you think?
And with this last example of peace on earth, it is time to close this little tour of the true Christmas Spirit. So my advice to all of my friends is to eat, drink, smoke, consume and (above all) spend to your limit, if not beyond. Forget about what all of those religious nuts say because this is, after all, the only REAL way to happiness.
But if, after all of the above, Christmas still isn’t doing it for you, you can always take another look at the baby Jesus part of the holiday that is over somewhere in the corner. Maybe there is still a little bit of Christmas there too.