I can still recall the day the Supreme Court ruled that there is no Santa Claus. It was like learning that your best friend had been accused, tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Though the unanimous decision rattled the nation, few were surprised at the outcome. Without proof that someone could circle the globe in one night, in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, the justices couldn’t have ruled any other way.
The controversy began one holiday season, when a department store Santa had insisted that he, alone, was the real Kris Kringle. No one took the old guy seriously, but law enforcement viewed his irrational behavior as a threat to public safety. A search of the man’s home revealed the extent of his delusion: velvet sacks brimming with toys, a wall-sized map of the North Pole, and under a tarp in the garage, an honest-to-goodness Santa sleigh. A foul odor then led investigators to the backyard, where they discovered eight live reindeer in a stable. Obsessing over Santa was not illegal, but keeping livestock in a residential neighborhood violated housing codes. A call to Animal Control, and the docile creatures were removed from the property.
When this news reached the on-duty Santa, he went berserk—trashing decorations, knocking over wooden soldiers, and hurling a Christmas tree over the heads of frightened children.
The unruly Santa was promptly arrested, and soon after brought before a judge. “Give me back my reindeer!” demanded the man. “How can I make my Christmas Eve deliveries without them?”
“Learn to fly!” replied the wisecracking official. “Either that, or prove to me that you’re the one and only Santa Claus.” Incensed by the judge’s rudeness, the man accepted his challenge. He hired an attorney and pleaded his case in open court.
Well, the “Madman Santa” trial quickly gained national attention. The testimony of “helpers,” and demonstrations on how to slide down a chimney, heightened the courtroom’s carnival atmosphere. In the end, all the man proved was that his grip on reality had slipped away. The judge ordered him to undergo psychiatric treatment, and further declared that in the eyes of the law, Santa Claus does not exist.
But the legal jousting didn’t end there. The decision was later overturned on appeal, then reversed yet again in a higher court. Ultimately, the highest authority in the land concluded that Santa, while being a harmless diversion, was no more real than the Easter Bunny.
State lawmakers responded by removing Santa’s likeness from public places. Teachers were prohibited from speaking his name in classrooms. Not to be outdone, the U.S. president imposed a nationwide Santa ban. Donning the red suit was now a federal crime. Reciting poems about Santa and singing his praises called for mandatory jail time. Even mailing him your Christmas wishes was a punishable offense.
At first people resisted the anti-Santa law, claiming it violated their right to Free Expression. But opponents soon discovered its benefits. Parents, who had assured 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.
Ten winters have come and gone since the Santa ban became law, and folks have mostly forgotten all about him. Old St. Nick may have been ousted as the ambassador of Christmas, but 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 door front wreaths, mistletoe kisses, 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.