The Errors of Santa Claus by Stephen Leacock
Stephen Leacock is best known for his short stories and is a humourist, educator, lecturer, and author. The story “The Errors of Santa Claus” is included in his collection Frenzied Fiction (1918). The storey satirises the current trend of Christmas gift giving. Gifting is a reenactment of the Magi’s visit to the child Jesus in the manger where he was born. The incense, myrrh, and gold offerings represent their proclamation of confidence in Jesus as King and Lord. According to Jesus, the presents are a representation of royal status. Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus as he is most often known, leaves basics such as food, clothing, and money for the poor. The two customs combine to make the Christmas season a time to share one’s wealth with those in need and spread joy worldwide. The spirit of Christmas is the joy of giving. However, the offering should be from one’s own resources to someone in need; in other words, charity. Charity fosters Christian characteristics such as empathy, kindness, and giving. As a result, Christmas should ideally be a time of introspection, thanksgiving, sharing, and joy in the presence of family and friends.
The way Christmas is celebrated in the modern era has changed dramatically. Gift giving has devolved into a fad rather than a necessity. The commercialization of this ritual by business entities has turned it into a time for spending rather than sharing prosperity. Commodities, consumer durables, and food items are encouraged to be sold in commercial facilities. Items are beautifully wrapped and displayed in store windows to entice customers. The Christmas season has evolved into the shopping season. This phenomenon has the greatest impact on children. They no longer like sharing their belongings, but instead seek out gifts and gadgets for themselves. Parents, by appeasing their children’s demands, also develop this consumerist behaviour in them.
Because the author has transplanted the errors onto a non-existent entity, the title of the storey is sarcastic. The characters in the storey have bought gifts for each other and are pleased with themselves for doing so. The story’s hilarity occurs when the gifts they have purchased for others are the ones they enjoy the most. So, when Santa Claus has placed the gifts in the appropriate stockings during the night, the gifts are returned to whoever seeks the greatest joy in using it the next day. To that extent, the Christmas spirit has been realised.
The act of exchanging gifts brings joy to both the giver and the receiver. The Browns and the Joneses are wealthy families who can afford extravagant gifts for their loved ones. Even the children are given sufficient funds to purchase extravagant gifts for their parents. They even display the items they have purchased for their neighbours to see and appreciate their efforts.
The irony is that they each purchased gifts for their families rather than their pals. The act of displaying the gifts is a way for them to gloat about how much money they have gladly spent on their family members. The act of purchasing the gift eliminates the concept of charity and sharing. The cost of the deed deprives it of empathy and kindness. Giving gifts to family members flips the concept of sharing one’s wealth with people in need on its head.
Along with the joy of giving, spending time with family and friends gives Christmas delight. It is time to reflect on one’s blessings, to be grateful for the presents received, and to pray for everyone’s health and well-being.
In the story, the two families only meet together to eat. Then they separate into groups and talk about the gifts they got for their families, touting the superior features of the gifts they bought. They do not wait for the gifts to be given to them; instead, they open them and begin to utilise them, losing themselves in the excitement of their new purchases. There is no introspection or expression of gratitude. The joy people feel comes from opening up the presents they have purchased and using them for themselves.
The hilarity in the story comes from the characters’ assumptions about one another. The parents purchased toys and dolls for their children, believing that they are young enough to enjoy playing with trains, planes, and dolls. The children, feeling that their parents are mature and would appreciate mature gifts, purchase expensive cigars, cigarettes, and card sets. They appear to have forgotten a fundamental aspect of human nature: “Yonder grass is always green.” Children aspire to be grown up and emulate adult habits, but adults who long for their youth enjoy anything childish. As a result, the Brown and Jones men and women take great delight in playing with the train and toys, while the Brown and Jones children smoke cigars and bet with cards. The grandfather, alone in his chamber, enjoys the gifts he has purchased for his son and grandson in solitude.