Santa needs to wear a seat belt. That's the new rule the chief elf must obey when he swoops into Hampton, N.H., this Christmas season. So say the cheerless Scrooges of Hampton. In today's regulation nation, even jolly old St. Nick can wind up on the naughty list.
When Hampton held its annual Christmas parade on Saturday, Santa and Mrs. Claus were not allowed to wave from their traditional perch atop the town's fire-department ladder truck. The reason: There are no restraints up there to keep them from falling off as the vehicle inches along at a walking pace. Earlier in the week, Deputy Fire Chief Jamie Ayotte had pointed out that National Fire Protection Association guidelines prohibit people from riding outside the truck. As a result, the Clauses were told they could ride inside the cab but not outside on the apparatus, according to the Hampton-North Hampton Patch.
Luckily, the fire department from nearby Rye came to the rescue, and the honored couple was able to join the parade strapped into the open-air seat of an antique firetruck instead.
Santa has been penalized for another bad habit -- smoking. Book publisher and anti-smoking advocate Pamela McColl has taken issue with the well-known holiday poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," written by Clement C. Moore in 1823. The story contains the lines, "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath." The text is often accompanied by a drawing of the red-suited elf smoking a pipe.
Ms. McColl has published a modern version of the poem with the offending lines and artwork excised. "I just really don't think Santa should be smoking in the 21st century," she told the Telegraph of London. For folks like Ms. McColl, being a "right jolly old elf" doesn't give Santa a pass from following the smoke-free rules of this politically correct age.
While Santa is a character that evolved out of an actual religious figure -- the fourth century's St. Nicholas of Myra -- Christmas remains a fundamentally religious holiday. This prompts some nonbelievers to object to its influence with a religious fervor of their own. They prowl municipal buildings and grounds in cities and towns in search of Nativity displays that dare evoke the original inspiration for the celebration -- the birth of Jesus.
Damon Vix recruited fellow atheists last year to snatch up space allotted for traditional Christmas scenes in Santa Monica, Calif. The group wound up with 18 of the 21 available spaces and featured such messages as "Happy Solstice." Of the three remaining spots, two showed Christmas scenes and one a Hanukkah display.
Popular culture evolves over time, and maybe Americans in 2012 are outgrowing Santa. Humorless adults intent on forcing the red-suited gift-bearer to conform to their ever-lengthening lists of bureaucratic rules need to lighten up: The annual holiday fantasy is mostly for kids, not them. As for the religious underpinnings of Christmas, it is in essence an appreciation of the gift of life, and that's something no one should outgrow.
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