HICKS: Little ho ho ho in Santa satire

It turns out that Dr. Nathan Grills of Australia’s Monash University may not be the ultimate Christmas curmudgeon, but in fact is simply a bad comedy writer.

Dr. Grills’ satirical article “Santa Claus: A public health pariah?” published in the current edition of the scholarly British Medical Journal posed the controversial thesis that “Santa’s behavior and public image are at odds with contemporary accepted public health messages.”

Unfortunately, the professor’s article didn’t come across as satirical. Probably because it said, “Given Santa’s fame, he has considerable potential to influence individual and societal behavior — and not necessarily for good. Santa is a late adopter of evidence-based behavior change and continues to sport a rotund sedentary image.”

Not even kidding.

Dr. Grills says Santa’s bad examples include portraying obesity as a jolly state of physical fitness, smoking a pipe and drunken driving. (Apparently some children leave booze for Santa. Note to self: Investigate this tradition.) Other unsafe habits include speeding and driving a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer without a seat belt or a helmet.

He says Santa’s iconic image, epitomized in 1930s Coca Cola ads, could be improved if the elf changed his ways by delivering gifts by bicycle or on foot.

Perhaps unaware that millions of people worldwide would be outraged that a public health educator had the audacity to pick on the man in the red suit, the author now says he wasn’t entirely serious when writing that Santa’s unhealthy lifestyle could damage the health of potential millions.

After much public outcry, the author claims his article was meant as a tongue-in-cheek Christmas spoof, reportedly saying, “I hoped to spread a bit of Christmas cheer, but with a tinge of seriousness to provoke a bit of healthy Christmas dinner table conversation.”

I’m sorry, Dr. Grills, but if your article is a topic of conversation around our dinner table, it’s a discussion that’s likely to include plenty of eye rolling and phrases such as, “Oh, for crying out loud.” File this story under “Jokes that have to be explained aren’t very funny.”

If Dr. Grills misses the point of Santa Claus, so do the folks who express indignation over Dr. Grills’ silly attempt at public health humor (assuming there is such a thing). Santa is a lovely symbol of generosity and imagination, innocence and hope, and for many of us he’s a charming part of the Christmas season. But if the so-called war on Christmas now includes an assessment of the health habits of someone who uses a working fireplace for entry and egress, I’m going to declare the battle won.

Anyway, for most of us — media hype and American Civil Liberties Union lawsuits to the contrary — there never was a war on Christmas. To be sure, some folks have worked hard to marginalize the religious significance of this holy season, and it’s disheartening that anti-Christian bigotry seems to be tolerated and even promoted in some circles, especially during the Christmas season.

But irony prevails. Condemning the public display of Christmas symbols serves only to remind Christians that the message of Jesus Christ is one of love and long suffering, sacrifice and forgiveness. Christians know that we cannot impose our beliefs on others, we can only do what God does — invite in love, and pray for those who seek healing and redemption.

Notably, a recent Rasmussen Reports poll confirms that nearly three-quarters of Americans prefer the greeting “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Not that this proves a majority of folks believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to redeem us and save us from sin and death.

Then again, eternal life with our loving Creator is a merry thought, indeed.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

• Visit Marybeth Hicks at www. marybethhicks.com.

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