In my ongoing attempt to vindicate every traditional or even quasi-traditional aspect of Christmas, it was inevitable that I should finally come to the subject of Santa Claus. The debate among Christians over Santa Claus is older than social media, which means I can recall it from my youth. As a child, my parents told me there was no Santa Claus, and we regarded with suspicion and incredulity those families who would “do Santa,” that odd and awful little turn of phrase.
While I am not a fortune teller, I would bet green money that the theology program at your classical Christian school has changed quite a bit over the last several years. In fact, I would wager that of the many subject taught at your school— biology, algebra, literature, history, and so forth— no single subject undergoes more frequent changes than theology.
There is now a common saying among teachers, “Fifty years ago, if a student failed a test, the student got in trouble. Today, if a student fails a test, the teacher gets in trouble.” When the garden-variety Republican hears this saying, he is apt to nod, then shake his head and bemoan the welfare state, the courts, emotionally fragile millennials, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and a world wherein no one is made to take responsibility for their actions.
How much you owe the Salvation Army every time you listen to the following Christmas songs:
“Last Christmas” by Wham!: 50 cents
Any Christmas song by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra: $1
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid (1984 version): $1
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid 20 (2004 version): $2
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid 30 (2014 version): $3
“Christmas Shoes” (Bob Carlisle cover): $5
“Christmas Shoes” (NewSong cover): $10
Pretty much any version of “Mary, Did You Know?”: $20
The contentious question of when to begin listening to Christmas music is, I believe, a red herring. The real question is, “Why listen to Christmas music at all?” Once we have sorted out this question, we will know when to hit play on “Silent Night.”
So far as I can tell, there are four schools of thought as regards the timeliness of Christmas music, and they are as follows.
Everyone knows how Aristotle defined rhetoric, but very few people believe actually him. Apparently, rhetoric is “the faculty of discovering in any particular case the available means of persuasion,” but classical educators are afraid to take Aristotle at his word. Every year, a great host of students at classical schools write theses wherein they fail to persuade their judges of their arguments, yet receive A’s on their work nonetheless. For many classical schools, rhetoric is not about persuasion, but about the formal structure of arguments, which is unfortunate.
Christians presently have a complicated relationship with the concept of hate. During the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the zeitgeist turned against hate and secularists chagrined hate as primitive and thuggish, but since the 2016 election, hate has become fashionable again and forgiveness is thought naïve and regressive. During the decades when hate was unpopular, many conservative Christians stood up for hate and pointed to the obvious: What of genocide? What of torture?
Student: Why did you count my Homer paper late?
Gibbs: Because it was due on Friday and you turned it in on Monday.
Student: But I wasn’t in class on Friday.
Gibbs: You weren’t in my class, which was the first class of the day, although you came to school later in the day.
Student: How do you know that?
Gibbs: I saw you around school.
Student: But I wasn’t at school during first period, which is when your class meets, and so I wasn’t present to turn in my paper.
Gibbs: Did you have a paper to turn in on Friday?
No one is more cautious about the value of words than professional writers. Having made a career of speaking for large and small crowds, and having written three books, a hundred film reviews, four hundred essays for this website— and having undertaken my fourteenth year of marriage— I would say I am skeptical of the idea that the best way for people to sort out their problems is to “just sit down and talk.”
Teacher: For history tests, I have my students make a cheat sheet that I allow them to use. It works great.
Gibbs: What’s on the cheat sheet?
Teacher: They’re allowed to put whatever information they like on the cheat sheet.
Gibbs: I would put passages of Scripture and quotes from Herodotus, Thucydides, and Horace on my cheat sheet.
Teacher: Well, those kind of quotes wouldn’t do you much good.
Gibbs: How come?
Teacher: Because I don’t ask about those things on history tests.