Santa with Six-Pack Abs?

Originally posted Dec. 2, 2007

Have you heard the latest? Get this: the Acting U.S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Steven Galson, says Santa Claus is too fat to be a role model.

Are you kidding me? Sounds a tad discriminatory, don’t you think?

“It is really important that the people who kids look up to as role models are in good shape, eating well and getting exercise … Santa is no different,” Galson told The Boston Herald recently. Galson is not alone in his assessment, apparently. In an effort to discourage childhood obesity, London Santas are slim this year. The charge doesn’t end there. In fact, The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas agrees, ‘suggesting’ that its 800 members lose weight in time for their July convention.

I’m all for teaching moderation and encouraging kids to embrace a healthy lifestyle, but I have a hard time swallowing the argument that whipping Santa into shape and withholding Christmas cookies from the jolly old fellow with a tummy that shakes like a bowl full of jelly is gonna make a darn bit of difference in the health of our children. Think about it, Mr. Surgeon General: do we really need more skinny celebrity ‘role models?’ How’s that workin’ for us?

The attack on Santa gets worse. Going down under for the Holidays? You won’t hear a “Ho Ho Ho” outta any Australian Santas, for fear of offending women. And Santas in the States have been discouraged from wishing people a “Merry Christmas,” lest folks of other faiths take offense. For Pete’s sake.

But a Santa with six-pack abs? Since when does Santa need to be a role model for a fit nation?

Anyone familiar with his story knows that he already has enough on his plate. Dozens of biographies of St. Nicholas, a real man born around 270 A.D. in a village then called Patara (formerly Greek, but now southern Turkish territory), consistently bear witness to the fact that Nicholas was and is a fine role model for the compassionate life. Born into a wealthy family, his devout Christian parents died during his youth, leaving a generous inheritance. Nicholas felt called to live simply and to share his wealth with the needy, but preferred to do so without attracting attention. A famous tale tells of his climbing into the upstairs window of a poor man’s home under the cover of darkness (so as to preserve the poor man’s dignity), where he left gold coins, enough for three dowries so the man’s daughters could marry. Various accounts report that Nicholas tossed satchels of coins, landing them in the daughters’ stockings which hung by the fire and in their shoes, giving rise to ensuing traditions. Nicholas, who eventually was appointed the Bishop of Myra for his good works, was later dubbed “Saint Nicholas” after somehow surviving religious persecution for his Christian faith. During his longer than average life (he lived to be about 73 years and died December 6, 343 A.D.), and, some would say, even after his death, St. Nicholas purportedly came to the aid of numerous children and others in need, doing many kind and generous deeds in secret, while expecting nothing in return.

A role model, indeed. How many of us, flat-abbed goody-two-shoes or not, can honestly say we do that?

Folks of every stripe and walk of faith can appreciate Santa’s unimpeachable morals, in spite of the bastardization and co-opting of his legacy for commercial gain.

As for the Surgeon General’s laughable statements, I cannot repeat my husband’s comments here.

But our nine-year-old son, Noah, reading the Herald story over my shoulder as I muttered something about the absurdity of picking on Santa, the ultimate keeper of wonder and role model for compassion, earnestly volunteered that “We’re gonna give him (Santa) extra cookies this year, okay Mommy? A whole plate,” he said. Amen.

My last word? Watch out, Easter Bunny. Those cute little Peeps you always leave? Their days are numbered.

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