What someone thinks about Christmas can often tell you something about them: people with inflexible or extreme beliefs are prone to apply those beliefs rigorously and fully to the institution of Christmas, sometimes with comical and Scrooge-like results. In this way, Christmas is a litmus test of ideological rigidity.

So who fits this bill? Think to yourself: if you were a child, who is the last person in the world you would want telling you Christmas stories, or explaining Christmas to you? Any clear thinking person should immediately think of Christopher Hitchens.

Imagine a small boy on Christmas eve, with a boozed up, clammy Hitchens sitting at the foot of his bed, swirling a scotch and a meditatively smoking a cigarette. “Mr.Hitchens,” the boy asks innocently, “what’s the meaning of Christmas?”. To which Hitchens would grumpily reply “My dear boy,…

I never cease to be amazed by how little the Bible-believing Protestants, who constitute most of the soldiery in the Christmas wars, know about their own tradition. Under the rule of the Puritan Revolution in the England of Oliver Cromwell (ancestor in many ways of the Pilgrim Fathers) the celebration of Christmas was banned outright. This was for three reasons: the December fiesta was actually the honoring of Paganism in disguise, and a descendant of the old rites of the Winter Solstice. Then, it was also a manifestation of Popery and superstition (the “Christ-Mass”). Finally, it was an excuse for the riff-raff to get drunk and over-indulge in general. Only the last part seems to have truly survived into our present day…

…None of the four gospels gives any notion of what time of year (let alone in what year) the supposed Nativity occurred. Only two gospels mention the virginity of Mary and only one has any mention of a “manger”. Nowhere is there any record of a “stable”. Wise men and shepherds are likewise very unevenly distributed throughout the discrepant accounts….Moreover, the erection of this exhibit near the turn of the year is actually a placation of the old Norse gods of the winter solstice – or “Yule” as the pre-Christians sometimes called it.

He would probably top that off with a diatribe about how we’re all better off that Santa Claus does not exist; “he knows when your sleeping, knows when your awake, keeps a list of enemies and allies labeled ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’; I should rather not live under such a totalitarian regime, thank you very much!”

Or if Hitchens were unavailable, imagine having the atomistic and uber-logical mind of Robin Hanson explain Santa Claus to you as a child. Think of poor Robin’s child when he asks “How does Santa deliver all those toys in one night?”. Of course the child would not receive the standard fairy tale explanation, but rather a realist analysis of what it would mean if a man could deliver all those toys in one night, and, given that a man can do that, the morality of his decision to do so:

consider what you could accomplish with such capabilities. Toward the naughty side, you could achieve a military takeover of most of the world, and maintain totalitarian control thereafter. Cooperative homes get good stuff; uncooperative homes get bombs; pretty soon they’d fall in line.

On the nice side, you could deliver food, medicine, tools, and self-defense weapons to a bottom billion of the world’s poor, sick, or oppressed. You could also identify and punish the world’s corrupt and criminal, and reward the innovative and generous…

…So what does Santa actually do? He gives toys to billions of children, mostly ignoring adults. He gives far more to rich kids than to poor kids, and he greatly favors cultures that celebrate his name over others..

…he prefers to help high status folks who celebrate his eccentric contribution. Apparently even in our dreams this is about as much as we dare hope for from a human, no matter how powerful. Deep down we know human charity is not about help, even if it does sometimes help.

“…Goodnight, son” he might end, leaving a terrified child to lay awake and wonder about the immorality and totalitarianism of Santa, and what that means about the ultimate shallowness of human charity.