I’ve just had the very surreal experience of speaking directly to Santa Claus, a man I was convinced was a fiction for my whole adult life—until now. It turns out Santa is quite real. If you go to North Pole, Alaska and ask to meet Santa Claus, you’ll be introduced to him. If you are skeptical that you’re meeting the Santa Claus, you can check his driver’s license. He’s the real deal. This means that kids who tell other kids that there “is no” Santa are lying. There is indeed a Santa. And he’s currently running for Congress on a progressive platform.
Santa Claus presently serves as the mayor pro tem of North Pole. He was first elected to the city council in 2015, after previously serving as the head of the North Pole Chamber of Commerce. Even though he’s Santa Claus, his presence in North Pole city government is a bit remarkable, because North Pole is one of the most heavily conservative places in Alaska—and Santa Claus is an open democratic socialist who supports Medicare For All, has protested against U.S. immigration policies, and says his agenda is the same as Bernie Sanders’.
Santa is running against Sarah Palin, among others, to fill the congressional seat of the late Don Young. The Alaska election is an open primary and 48 candidates are running, with the top 4 advancing to the general election using a new ranked-choice voting system. This, interestingly enough, may give Santa a fighting chance at actually making it through to the general election even though he is only spending $400 on his campaign and refusing to accept donations. He does, after all, have better name recognition than any other candidate, including Palin.
But Santa Claus is also a pretty serious guy. He was not always Santa Claus, and did not always live in North Pole. The 74-year-old was born in Washington, D.C. and worked in jobs ranging from managing public television to developing community policing strategies for the NYPD. He ran the Terrorism Research and Communications Center, an organization that aimed to advise the government on how to effectively counter terrorists—although his belief that we ought to talk to terrorists was apparently not well-received. Eventually he became a monk, and when his beard grew long, he realized that he would make a very good Santa Claus.
The Santa Claus who lives in North Pole became Santa for quite a serious reason: he wanted to be an advocate for child welfare. He does not give out toys. Instead he tries to bring a message of comfort and love to children who are alone or in danger, and he meets with policy-makers to encourage them to do more to end child poverty. He says he is an effective lobbyist because people find it hard to say no to Santa.
It would be extremely easy to dismiss a man named Santa Claus as an eccentric. But this man has become a real-life Santa Claus in order to do good in the world, from being a medical marijuana advocate to serving on the Alaska public broadcasting commission. He believes deeply in the spirit of Christmas—the real one, not the Coca Cola Santa commercialized Christmas. Santa professes a staunch commitment to uplifting the children of the world. When I spoke to him, he ended our conversation by giving me a blessing: wishing me and all Current Affairs readers “a lifetime that’s filled with happiness, peace, good health, prosperity, and most of all love, the greatest gift.” He became genuinely emotional as he said it.
We need more people who can say things like this earnestly. Our society has gotten far too Trumpian, with selfishness rewarded, nature trashed, and widespread indifference to the suffering of the vulnerable. The opposite of Donald Trump is Santa Claus, a person who gives rather than takes and who overflows with compassion for the world’s children.
I genuinely think that Santa Claus should be recognized as the real Santa Claus, because there’s something beautiful about his presence in the world. I like the idea that while the Santa who comes down chimneys is a myth, there is nevertheless a Santa Claus, and he’s just somewhat different than what you’d expect. For one thing, this real-world Santa Claus says things like “the greatest gift is love, not necessarily presents.” But that’s exactly the kind of thing you’d want out of an actual Santa. Let us for a moment imagine a child who sets off to find Santa Claus, and (quite logically) winds up in North Pole rather than at the actual North Pole (which is 1,700 miles away). Said child would discover that there is indeed a warm, kind man with a bushy beard who wears red (though he hates the Santa suit, which is surely what we’d expect of the real Santa). And Santa would (perhaps disappointingly, but correctly) give the child the gift of a blessing rather than a toy. It’s a story fit for a movie.
The real Santa is also political, and that’s important. Santa Claus understands that if the spirit of Santa is truly to be one of giving and universal love, then Santa must be a democratic socialist who tries to get people universal health care and end poverty. Giving children gifts is a small act of charity that doesn’t change their lives. The real-world Santa wants to free children from immigration detention centers, so they don’t spend Christmas in cages. Doesn’t that make far more sense than the Santa of myth, who uses his power to hand out tchotchkes rather than prevent children from becoming homeless?
Santa Claus’s run for Congress is not just an amusing story about the chaos of the upcoming Alaska primary. I think what he’s doing should be taken very seriously, because he’s showing what a different kind of uniquely Alaskan progressive politics could look like. He’s a respected figure in his community because he puts in the work and has thought about what it actually means to be Santa Claus, the responsibilities of the role. It’s led him to embrace universal healthcare because he wants to end unnecessary suffering. Santa Claus stands for something, and what he’s showing us is the possibility of a world where people care about perfect strangers.
North Pole is a pretty small place, and it didn’t take too many votes for Santa to get elected. But it’s still notable that he’s managed to become a city official in a deeply “red” place as a “blue” candidate. This is not because he’s named Santa Claus but because he’s locally known. He works well with people and they respect him, and he is kind even to those who disagree with him. Santa noted when I talked to him that Bernie overwhelmingly won the Alaska primary in 2016, and believes that Bernie’s brand of working-class politics have potential to appeal in places Democrats have given up on.
I hope Santa trounces Sarah Palin, although, Santa being Santa, when I spoke to him he refused to say a negative word about her despite their very different politics. Speaking to him was a wonderful experience, not just because I never expected to meet the Santa Claus, but because the real Santa has a generous, humane, solidaristic disposition that is all too rare at the moment. It’s exactly what you’d hope for from the real Santa, and I think we should adjust our understanding of the Santa myth to account for Santa’s existence: instead of revealing to children that Santa “doesn’t exist,” reveal to them that while Santa exists, he doesn’t bring presents. Instead, he just gives out love, and advocates for Medicare for All.
If someone lives in North Pole as Santa Claus long enough, do they become the real Santa Claus? My position is that they do, and that I think if someone is willing to volunteer to be the real Santa, and commit their life to the role, we should accept that while it used to be the case that Santa wasn’t real, now he is. And after this Santa, I hope someone else takes his place, someone who will continue to always be up there in North Pole, caring about the children of the world. We can choose, if we like, to live in a world where Santa is real, or we can senselessly deny that Santa Claus is actually Santa Claus simply because he was not born Santa Claus. Personally I think it makes far more sense to accept that Santa is real and he’s running for Congress. If kings and presidents can be created by social consensus, why not legitimize Santa’s claim to being Santa?
So from now on, if parents want to tell children that there is no Santa, perhaps what they don’t want children finding out is that the real Santa is a democratic socialist.