Looking at a selection of conservative political cartoons, I saw one published on Christmas day showing Santa Claus poking his head through a poster saying “Happy Holidays” and apparently shouting “Merry Christmas.” At first glance, it seems like a simple way of pushing back against the public retreat from the religious particularity of the holiday we are in fact celebrating.
But then I thought: Wait, why is Santa Claus the symbol of Christmas? Even if the use of “happy holidays” is a retreat, having a Santa Claus say “Merry Christmas” in response seems a corruption. There’s something wrong with this.
He’s at best a derivative figure, and is in fact really more a commercialized image more closely related to secular American culture than to anything significantly Christian to anything, that is, that signifies Christ. At this point, he’s only derived from the Christian feast day as some over-sweetened kid’s artificially-flavored grape drink can be said to be derived from good red wine. When he says “Merry Christmas,” he’s not really saying what the Christian means by it.
I can’t quite figure out why this bothers me, but it has something to do with the use of a secular symbol in defense of Christianity as if it were a Christian symbol. The cartoonist has confused two things that ought never to be confused or blended.