Back during the early 90s, there was a popular urban legend doing the rounds that, being culturally unfamiliar with the foreign religious festival of Christmas, an unnamed (because actually non-existent) Japanese shopping centre had traumatised the tiny toddlers of Tokyo by producing an alarming in-store advertising display consisting of a bloodied yet smiling Father Christmas nailed to a cross, to sell customers their festive toys and tat.
The myth seemed to function as a metaphor for the looming potential danger that the Japanese, with their then-booming economy and penchant for buying up significant U.S. and European companies like Columbia Pictures, could not be trusted with the West’s cultural traditions: through sheer incomprehension and corporate greed, they would only end up subverting them to serve their own self-interested ends. The true guardians of beloved figures like Father Christmas, the fable implied, were our own domestic kith and kin, who could be relied upon never to subvert Santa for profit or strange ideological ends.
Well, maybe that was indeed the case, back in about 1993. Thirty years later, personally, I’d rather trust Tokyo with continued custodianship of Mr. Claus’s wellbeing than the governing wokerati of Washington, London or Brussels: at least when the Japs supposedly crucified him, it was an acknowledgement of the actual existence of Christianity. With that in mind, here’s a two-part Daily Sceptic Christmas special in which we examine a few of the more egregious ways in which everyone’s favourite festive chimney-penetrator has been politically abused throughout the U.S. and Europe in recent years. First up: Covid-Safe Santa!
One Sick Santa
In the run-up to Christmas 2020, at the end of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns, the new North Pole junta of public elf officials, as embodied by America’s own Dr. Anthony Fauci, benignly reassured worried youngsters Christmas that year would not be completely ruined by lockdowns after all: like the virus itself, Santa would remain airborne across the planet. In an interview with USA Today, Fauci announced that Father Christmas was “exempt” from all the usual quarantine rules, as his many “good qualities” meant he “has a lot of good innate immunity” to the disease.
Politicians in Europe soon followed suit. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon declared Santa a “key worker” who would be spared prosecution for breaking lockdown rules due to both his “magic powers” and the alleged innate goodness of his cause, a bit like Black Lives Matter protesters, whilst Boris Johnson tweeted that Santa could continue his deliveries, at least “provided Father Christmas behaves in his usual responsible way and works quickly and safely”, like low-paid Amazon drivers still had to do.
Italy’s then-PM Giuseppe Conte advised bambinos to leave out not the customary brandy, but a bottle of hand sanitiser for St. Nick; then he could always just drink it for its alcohol content. Most bizarre was a joint open letter to Santa from Belgium’s Health and Interior Ministers, permitting him to visit the nation’s homes on December 24th, provided he wore a face-mask. “A Spanish virologist also confirmed to us that your beard protects you sufficiently and serves as a mask,” they added, thus explaining why sales of PPE were so slow across Afghanistan.
In Poor Nick
One of the oddest products of this feverish period was a paper, ‘How Covid-Safe Santa Can Save Christmas’, which originally appeared in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. This was joint-authored by two public health academics, one of whom had previously written an assessment of the likely consequences of patient Claus’s clinical obesity for the British Medical Journal in 2009, titled ‘Santa Claus: A Public Health Pariah?’
Although a partial joke, some of the paper’s recommendations for Santa-related public health did actually come true, like many a Christmas wish upon a star. The authors spoke of the potential need to create “virtual Santa, Zoom-Santa and click-and-collect Santa” services to avoid kids coming into direct contact with the bearded wonder himself: such Covid-friendly services soon appeared catering to home-trapped families for real, with names like JingleRing.
Furthermore, “Additional precautions to adopt include making Santa’s sleigh Covid-safe with fibreglass screens”. Ha ha ha. Except, in shopping malls across the world, Santa was indeed placed behind just such protective screens away from any visiting, germ-ridden kids, almost as if trapped within a snow-globe forever by some wicked witch of winter. But never mind, they were cunningly relabelled as “Magic Santa Shields” by ad-men, thus making it all okay: some mall-visitors may actually have preferred to see him being crucified.
Other statements in the paper included: “Visiting every house on Earth [even in Brunei?]… provides a significant infection control challenge”; “We know that Santa’s older age, tobacco use and obesity are important risk-factors for COVID-19”; and, “We should use disposable cups and plates… in the unlikely event there are leftover brandy or biscuits, mum and dad should resist the temptation to finish them off and instead safely dispose of them” in a nearby incinerator.
However, the scientists generously conceded, as there were no reported cases of COVID-19 from the “low-risk ‘green’ jurisdiction” area of the North Pole, it was highly unlikely Claus would be asymptomatically infected prior to his sleigh’s initial 2020 take-off. Therefore, the main risk was of him contracting it in someone’s home en route. Yet, due to the virus’s incubation period, “As the total time spent delivering presents from start to finish is 24 hours, he would finish his deliveries before becoming infectious”. Thus, “we are only asking him [and his reindeer!] to wear a N95 mask in our recommendations, and are not requiring him to wear full PPE, which would make chimney descents particularly difficult, if not dangerous”. If St. Nick followed all these public health guidelines to the letter then “Covid-Safe Santa will be a super-spreader of goodwill and joy to all in 2020” – just like the scientists themselves!
Another precaution the paper’s authors dispensed was that, “Given the high-risk nature of his job, [Santa] will require a negative test before flying”. This was also the basis of a 2021 festive advert for Tesco, which prompted thousands of complaints as it featured a fake newsreader warning the audience: “Santa could be quarantined” that year. These fears were then dispelled by Father C turning up before British border-control officers – a breed of mythical beings far more fictional than Santa himself – and waving a green Covid-pass to them from his smartphone, thereby demonstrating he had been successfully vaccinated and was thus free to fly.
Complainants argued the piece functioned, deliberately or otherwise, as yet more mainstream media propaganda coercing viewers to get jabbed, thereby encouraging “medical discrimination”. The Advertising Standards Agency disagreed, dismissing the prospect most people would take the brief scene as anything other than “a humorous reference” to current events, but it still garnered some 5,009 complaints, making it the second-most complained about advert of all time: number one was a quite brilliant 2014 campaign from gambling firm Paddy Power during the murder-trial of disabled athlete Oscar Pistorius, offering punters their “money back if he walks”.
Far more questionable in taste than the Tesco ad was another 2020 short film put out online by the NHS, called ‘The Gift’, which depicted a Covid-ridden Santa apparently dying in hospital with an oxygen mask over his face. Although by the end of the advert, he recovers – “Come into an NHS hospital and walk out dead!” may not have been a good PR-message to spread – parents protested that seeing the piece may upset their young children, and it was swiftly withdrawn.
The NHS said the piece wasn’t aimed at young children, but a cross-country NHS campaign involving local Santa impersonators turning up at vaccination centres and being jabbed before waiting cameras surely was aimed at getting kids to nag their parents into going along and doing likewise. Santa successfully reported for vaccination in Sefton on Merseyside, for example, boasting that “all of my elves have also had their booster jabs”, thereby confirming the possibility of inter-species transmission, whilst another Santa visited St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark, punning that “If you’ve not yet had your jab, ho-ho-hop over to your nearest vaccine centre and they’ll be happy to help you”.
As with the Japanese in the old urban legend, others were eager simply to make money from this new angle on St. Nick’s image, with several self-published children’s books with titles like When Santa Got Covid and Santa Claus has COVID-19! appearing in time for Christmas 2021.
The first title mentioned above was actually written by a small child, demonstrating how successfully the image of Santa contracting the virus had by this point infected young minds. You could even head across to the website of Santa Letter Direct, who provides customers with personalised missives to their own child from Father Christmas, with their name and other personal details printed into the gaps, which included paragraphs like the following:
Mrs Claus helped me put up a big rainbow in our windows, so all the amazing doctors and nurses of Lapland could see how thankful we are for their hard work. We know it has been super busy at Happy Holiday Hospital, but they have been doing a great job, just like all of the key workers in [HOME-TOWN]. They are not the only ones who have been working hard this year – I heard that you [INSERT ACHIEVEMENT HERE], what a clever [BOY/GIRL] you are!
“Just imagine their face when they read that Santa Claus knows so much about them!” the website promises. Yes, he’s been constantly monitoring them on their parents’ phones with highly intrusive data-harvesting, geo-location, infection-notification apps.
Whether one approved of lockdowns or not, this constant repurposing of a fictional kids’ character for blatant purposes of indoctrination and population control – and good old-fashioned profit too, of course – could easily be viewed as somewhat dubious. But has it really had any meaningful lasting effect upon vulnerable infant brains? To judge by the case of Jonah Simons, a 10-year-old Florida boy who made headlines in America after writing to Santa requesting he develop a COVID-19 vaccine for the world back in 2020, maybe so.
According to Jonah’s mother, the child “sent his Xmas wish out into the universe and it came true”, a fact which apparently made young Jonah, who had already been fraudulently dressing as a medic since he was three years old, even more determined upon pursuing a future career in medicine; or, as CNN put it, “He’s a would-be doctor whose medicine is love”. He certainly sounds as if he’d be a dab-hand at administering emetics. Apparently, Dr. Simons wishes only to visit the sick “and prescribe his love-medicine”, which sounds enough to get him struck off to me.
Or, is this all actually still so? Having had plenty of time on his hands to think big thoughts during lockdown, Jonah has now decided that, rather than being a mere medic, “he can make a bigger difference as the leader of the Free World [sic]”. According to Jonah himself: “My best goal is to be a President. That way, I can make changes to a lot of things and make decisions that help other people.” What, you mean just like how all our adult leaders did back during Christmas 2021?
Thanks, Santa Simons, but forcing gifts like lockdowns and furloughs onto some people who might not actually want to receive them isn’t really how Christmas is supposed to work, you know.
Steven Tucker is a journalist and the author of over 10 books, the latest being Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science: When Science Fiction Was Turned Into Science Fact by the Nazis and the Soviets (Pen & Sword/Frontline), which is out now.