Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, & Christopher Hitchens: 3 Godly Entities & 1 Godless Entity
There is an argument I hear all the time. I hear it in both the real world and in the fantasy world of the internet, from my friends and from my co-workers, from atheists and from Muslims: there is no such thing as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. Many times, one of these groups, usually the atheists will add god to their list of things they don’t believe in (but that’s another topic).
The core argument unbelievers make is that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny aren’t real. A man in a sleigh with flying reindeers and a fairy that brings you money for your teeth as you sleep are unbelievable. As for the rabbit that lays eggs, biologically impossible. What they fail to add to their argument is that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are all creations of the secular world.
World renown evolutionary biologist and author as well as a member of the Four Horsemen of Atheism, Richard Dawkins will have none of that:
Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood. So is God. Some of us grow out of all three. (Third Way Magazine, June 2003, p. 5)
As for the Tooth Fairy, this has no ties to Christianity and how nonbelievers link the it to Christianity is beyond me.
But if they argue that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny aren’t real, which they aren’t, then I must ask: Do they let their children watch cartoons? Do they let their children watch Disney animated features?
There’s Bugs Bunny, a rabbit that walks and talks like a human. Bugs can play the piano, banjo, and guitar and sing opera! What about Daffy Duck? A duck that can do everything that Bugs Bunny can.
Then there’s Mickey Mouse. He can talk, sing, dance. He even has his own radio station, tv channel, and theme parks all over the world. Even a girlfriend! Peppa Pig? A talking pig much like Porky. He has talking friends such as dogs, cats, ducks, giraffe, and others.
I could give hundreds of examples.
If anything, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny as well as animated cartoons builds a child’s imagination.
As far as Christmas and Easter goes, there are two Christmas’ and two Easters’: A secular holiday and a Christian holiday. It’s the secular versions of these holidays which created Santa and the Easter Bunny. The Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas has no ties to these icons although there was a saint who lived during the Roman Empire in the Greek city of Myra who was known as Saint Nicholas of Myra.
A popular poem from 1823, A Visit from St. Nicholas, more popularly known (after its first line) as The Night Before Christmas was written by poet (and farmer) Henry Livingston Jr. (later it was learned that Clement Clarke Moore, an American Professor of Divinity and Biblical Learning at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in New York City was the author.) This piece of fiction, as well as others I will write about next helped to secularize Christmas and Saint Nicholas himself.
The poem is largely responsible for the secularization of Saint Nicholas and transformed him into the modern image of Santa Claus. The Night Before Christmas introduced pagan elves, Santa’s “magical” sleigh, flying reindeer, which Livingston also named; this was later expounded on by adding Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer to the mix.
The portrayal of the Jolly St. Nick was further ingrained in American culture with Thomas Nast’s engravings in Harper’s Weekly and Haddon Sundblom’s paintings which appeared in Coca-Cola ads between 1931 and 1964.
As far as the month-long lead up to December 25th (in some countries such as the Philippines the lead up is much longer) the history of Christmas celebrations was nil. Christians did not formally celebrate the birth of Christ until the fourth century and these celebrations consisted of celebrations at home. The only significant event that the early believers celebrated was the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Easter as a celebration was more common than Christmas.
During the Protestant Reformation, Protestants banned Christmas festivals altogether. In 1645, in Oliver Cromwell’s England, Christmas was banned but was later reinstated when Charles II came to power. Even the Puritans in early America outlawed Christmas from 1659–1681 and if you were caught celebrating Christmas outside of the typical church celebrations, you were fined.
This all changed in the early 19th century.
In 1819, American author Washington Irving published a series of short stories in The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. These short stories kick started what we know as the “traditional” Christmas. In his book, Washington portrayed the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house in which the English squire invited peasants into his home for a Christmas celebration.
Also, during the 19th century, English author Charles Dickens penned A Christmas Carol in which the classic holiday story emphasizing kindness and giving to all. The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon and A Christmas Carol metaphorically threw Christians and Jesus under the bus. These literary giants re-invented Christmas and transformed it into a secularized, family-centered day of giving and nostalgia which eventually turned into the giant, overtly commercialized, consumerism-based, out of control tool of capitalists.
Most Christians celebrate the secular Christmas as well as the real Christmas, but they know the true meaning of Christmas. All true Christians celebrate the real Christmas which is not the Christmas that non-believers celebrate. The Christmas that non-believers celebrate is a creation of their own. And as far as Santa goes, they created him also.
Easter has the same problem, on a much smaller scale and the history goes back even further. If you ask a regular person on the street about symbols of Easter, they will say “chocolate bunnies” and “eggs” or “Peeps!” Jesus is mentioned, but not at the same rate as Peeps or chocolate bunnies. Easter (as well as Christmas) is the time of year when the secular and spiritual worlds collide.
By 1835 Jacob Grimm, the elder of the Brothers Grimm and the editor of Grimm’s Fairy Tales spins his own fairy tale about Easter based on Saxon and other Teutonic traditions (his own understanding of these traditions which some argue are flawed.)
Two things made Grimm’s version of Easter popular in America: The massive German population because of the 1800 migration of Germans to America, writers and scholars taking Grimm’s story at face value without any research.
As far as Easter traditions goes, by 600 AD, the Catholic Church’s regulations for Lent include avoiding eggs for 40 days before Pasch. Pope Gregory wrote this about the Lenten “fast” some time before his death in 604AD:
“We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs.”
Christians begin hard-boiling eggs that are laid during the last week of Lent to preserve them until the feast day.
Around 1610, Pope Paul V gave his blessing for eating hard-boiled eggs as a commemoration of the Resurrection. Ever since Paul V’s blessing, eating hardboiled eggs on Easter had become a longstanding Christian tradition, even devilled eggs.
Then, by mid-1600, German Lutherans are coloring and hiding colored eggs for their children. Strangely enough, Lutherans are telling their children that hares lay the eggs they are hunting.
In Alsace and the neighboring regions those eggs are called rabbit-eggs because of a myth told to . . . children — that the Easter Rabbit lays the eggs and hides them in the grass of the gardens. So, the children search for them even more eagerly, to the delight of the smiling adults.
Grimm’s unsupported claims [in a nutshell] that most European celebrations of the Resurrection were really stolen from early pagan celebrations are still believed and repeated to this day. This claim is especially aimed towards Catholics.
With the Industrial Revolution and capitalism in full swing in Continental Europe and the British Isles, Chocolate bunnies were being made and consumed in large quantities, starting in Germany. American chocolate company Whitman’s produced chocolate bunnies specifically for Easter, at first a failure in the mid to late 19th century, chocolate bunnies eventually grew in popularity in North America after 1900.
In 1901, Beatrix Potter’s storybook Peter Rabbit was a failure but in 1902 it’s published by Frederick Warne & Co., giving it a much wider. Peter Rabbit is not an Easter story, but it attaches the name “Peter” to rabbits in popular culture (Peter Cottontail, etc..)
It’s very apparent that when somebody claims that the Easter Bunny or Santa isn’t real they are showing their ignorance on the subject. Whether it’s an atheist or an agnostic, whether it’s Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, or whether its just your college philosopher Professor, when they make that claim please don’t laugh out loudly.