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An Unacceptable Christmas
By Bruce Edwards


The Craziness That Started It All

So, you say you've never heard of Santa Claus? I'm not a bit surprised. How would you? Wearing a Santa suit in public is illegal. Singing songs about him will get you arrested. Mailing letters to Santa is a punishable offense. In short, expressing anything to do with the jolly old elf is against the law. By now you're probably asking: Doesn't that infringe on our right to Free Speech? For the answer, you need to go back ten winters, to that game-changing Christmas.

   For working-class Santas it was a typical holiday season. They rang hand bells on street corners and waved to adoring fans along parade routes. Children flocked to shopping malls to tell them their Christmas wishes. As always, the existence of Santa Claus was a hot topic for debate. Though all in good fun, one department store Santa took offense at this, insisting that he, alone, was the real Kris Kringle. The kindly, old gentleman had been the store's Santa for years. Clearly, all those long hours of role-playing had gone to his head.
   His neighbors, too, noticed his grip on reality slipping away, and decided it was time to call in the authorities. A search of the man's home revealed evidence of his Santa obsession: velvet sacks brimming with toys, a wall-sized map of the North Pole, and hidden under a tarp in the garage, an honest-to-goodness Santa sleigh.
   A foul odor then led inspectors to the backyard. There they found a stable -- and inside, eight reindeer! As with most cities, keeping livestock in a residential area violated housing codes. A call to Animal Control, and the docile creatures were removed from the property.
   The old guy's heart ached, like a parent whose children had been torn away from him. His only recourse was to sue the city, demanding that he be exempt from the regulation. At a preliminary hearing he defended his action: "How do you expect me to make my Christmas Eve deliveries without my reindeer?"
   "Learn to fly!" replied the wisecracking judge. "Either that, or prove to me that you're the one and only Santa." Little did he realize how much his sarcasm would impact the case. He had shifted the focus away from backyard reindeer, to arguing the truth of Santa's existence.
   Well, the "Madman Santa" trial went ahead as scheduled, and quickly became front page news. The open testimony of "helpers," and demonstrations on how to slide down a chimney, heightened the courtroom's carnival atmosphere. But when it came time to hand down the obvious verdict, the judge ran into a problem. He had little ones at home who believed in Santa Claus, and a wife hell-bent on protecting them from any childhood trauma. If the judge legally declared there is no Santa, he would surely find divorce papers on is desk the next day.
   The threat worked. From the courtroom bench the judge declared, "Santa Claus without his reindeer is like a sea captain with no crew: neither can perform his duties without them. The court, hereby, orders the plaintiff's reindeer be returned, and in doing so, recognizes him to be the indisputable Santa."
   The legality of the decision was immediately challenged. The judge's ruling was overturned on appeal, then reversed yet again in a higher court. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court would decide, once and for all, if Father Christmas was indeed a real person. After hearing arguments from both sides, the justices concluded that Santa, while being a harmless diversion, is "no more real than the Easter Bunny".
   State and local governments quickly responded. All images depicting Santa were removed from public places. Teachers were prohibited from speaking his name in schools. Not to be outdone, the U.S. president, by executive order, made believing in Santa a federal crime -- further stating: "Santa Claus is bad! Very, very bad!"
   At first people resisted the anti-Santa decree, but soon discovered its benefits. Parents who told their children that Santa was real, only to confess later they had lied, were glad to be rid of him. Church worshipers happily abandoned the secular icon to follow that Bethlehem star.
   It's been a decade since the Santa ban became law, and most folks have forgotten all about old St. Nick. Though he had been ousted as the ambassador of Christmas, what remained was more than enough to keep the Yuletide spirit alive. Decorated trees still brightened the season. Loved ones crossed the miles to be home for the holidays. There were mistletoe kisses, door front wreaths, magical snowmen, candy canes and fruitcakes. And children would continue to unwrap presents on Christmas morning. All in all, brushing Santa aside wasn't too great a sacrifice to make.

   And the People were fine with that.

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