“What if Santa came to hospital?” read my online update. “What diagnosis would you give him?” A team of friends gathered around to deliberate. The options were plenty; but the prognosis looked poor.

Friend One went deep.
“Terribly low self-esteem, of course,” she quipped, “he does feel the need to buy his friends”. Could the jolliest man alive be riddled with nightmares of not having anyone to sit with during first break in primary school? Is there a smug (displaced) revenge being enforced by not giving the naughty kids any toys? Could the boisterous “Ho Ho Ho!” be masking a poor sense of self, possibly rooted in poor attachment to his own mother (and absent father)? This may explain his isolated existence in icy North Pole. I feel I should’ve left extra cookies and milk out this year.

Doctor pal opted for the biological.
After a quick confession that she has, in fact, also secretly pondered this question for a long time but was too afraid to ask it in medical school, she shared her insight: Diabetic with compounded obesity (refer to dietician?) and possible thyroid dysfunction (blood tests needed here – will also test for drug use and/or excessive caffeine consumption that helps keep up with job demands). Doc suggests “possible lesion in amygdala” (I agree, pretending to know where in the brain the amygdala is). This may require an expensive CT scan or MRI. National Health Insurance hasn’t kicked in yet, so Santa may get put on a lengthy waiting list. Hopefully results will be in before next December.

Psychiatrist goes for something simpler (and cheaper). “Delusions of grandeur,” she pronounces confidently, “simple as that.” The facts support this: exaggerated belief in being able to accomplish the impossible; bizarre thoughts about travelling through time and space at remarkable speeds; trying to run a factory that can produce enough products to fill millions of children’s stockings.
But wait – don’t we all buy into Santa and his reindeers and his elves and his sleigh and his superhuman feats? Are we the deluded bunch? Are we enabling his dysfunctional patterns? Should we be in therapy, too? Self-reflection is too messy… moving along.

Criminologist thinks he’s a paedophile. Santa’s lap just became a bad place to sit.
“Endless counts of breaking into houses,” he says. I check the legal records, and no reported cases yet of unlawful entry. But makes you wonder why he comes down the chimney and not the front door? (Can safely rule out claustrophobia, obsessive cleanliness, acrophobia, and fear of the dark).
We consider voyeuristic tendencies and chronic invasion of privacy. “He knows when you’re naughty and knows when you’re nice,” comments friends suspiciously. True. Santa knew I didn’t really deserve that skateboard when I was 12. Could my childhood hero have been a perv with a spycam? I suddenly feel exposed.

Peering from his ivory tower, sociologist looks at the macro angles and believes that Santa, being the “custodian of the capitalist project”, is under immense pressure to fulfil “the imposing and utterly ridiculous needs of the uncritical masses”. Of course, the demands created by the commercialisation of “Xmas” (and subsequent disappearance of anything Christ-related) has made Santa the real patriarch of December 25th. Shopping malls are the new places of worship, right? The jingle of shopping tills has replaced the clang of church bells, and the number of bums on pews doesn’t nearly match the numbers of cars at shopping centres.

My buddy, the theologian agrees, and with a stern tone diagnoses Santa as the Anti-Christ. “Stop stealing Jesus’s thunder,” he pleads. Jesus who?

I sensed danger at this point, so I logged off quickly, just in case some supernatural power mistook witty irreverence for blasphemy and sent a lightning bolt my way. Now that Christmas has come and gone, depending on the quality of gifts, millions have either stopped believing or continued idolising the mysterious man in the red suit. Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

Have a happy new year!


Suntosh Pillay

Suntosh Pillay

Suntosh Pillay works as a clinical psychologist in a public hospital in Durban. He is a PhD researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and has written extensively on a range of topics in various media. He...

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