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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.

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