Government Santa Claus

Santa Claus in Chicago
Creative Commons

Santa Claus is a symbol of social justice. For kids (and some adults) he is the ultimate judge of the past year. What deeds Santa Claus rewards says a lot about the values of a society. What is the traditional Santa Claus like? That’s easy. “He’s making a list / And checking it twice / Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice”. You were ‘nice’? Here is a reward. You were ‘naughty’ – here is a punishment. This is a kind of a social contract between an individual and Santa Claus. This simple and intuitive logic is not uncommon in many cultures. But I cannot help at wonder: what would Santa Claus be like if he was a government figure?

He would certainly hand out presents not to those who were nice, but to those who voice their demands the loudest. Obnoxious kids in toy stores and most irresponsible adults would get the most presents. If one were to write a jingle for the ‘Government Santa Claus’, it would go something like this: “He’s making a list, he…, he doesn’t care who’s naughty or nice.” Why do the loudest and not the nicest get the presents? Government Santa would explain that the naughty ones are not really responsible for their actions. And what about those who were nice? Government Santa would criticize our obsession with performance and reward. The nice ones are a product of external factors. “See that snowman? You didn’t build that!” would conclude Government Santa.

And then there is a possibility of no presents at all. Due to bureaucracy Santa would have one list, the elves in the workshop would have a different one, and the reindeer yet another one. Or maybe the elves would be bogged down in paperwork instead of making toys.

Okay, let’s leave the list on a side for the time being, but what presents would we get? Kids would receive gifts with a sticker saying: “Present financed with loan. Repay once you reach adulthood”. Of course, kids would like the presents they would get (kids are kids after all). However, such gifts would turn sour once kids become adults and realize they have to pay back the loan (plus interest) for these presents. The Lithuanian government has a debt of more than €18 bln, or €37.000 per child.

Adults would also find presents under the Christmas tree. Anyone paying into the pay-as-you-go government social insurance fund should receive a paper slip saying “A promise to pay you something at some point”. If adults were to raise questions, Government Santa would lecture them about the holiday spirit.

However even this can be too optimistic of an estimate. If Santa and his elves worked according to the antiquated Lithuanian labor code, the presents could arrive as late as next summer. Prior to his departure from the North Pole, scientists would have estimated how fast Santa should fly to reach every kid in every time zone. But these estimates wouldn’t account for regulation. And what if elves were to unionize? (“Elves have rights too!”) And what about reindeer and animal rights?

Government Santa Claus is a sad caricature of what has happened to our values. Lithuanian folklore centers around hard work and just reward. However, a new class of people is now evolving. They do not want to work, but want to get paid.

Lithuanian folklore has yet another tradition. Seven weeks before Easter, during a popular traditional ritual an effigy of symbol of winter is burnt at the stake. This is supposed to defeat the winter and invite the season of spring. Well, maybe the symbol of Government Santa Claus deserves the same fate.