A supporter holds up a sign and a Santa Claus hat during President-elect Donald Trump’s speech at a rally at Ladd–Peebles Stadium on December 17, 2016, in Mobile, Alabama. (AP photo by Brynn Anderson)
A lot has changed over this post-election Christmas season. The most remarkable change has been the ability of Republican leaders to put aside the ghosts of Donald Trump past and embrace the yuletide future with childlike optimism. They’ve gone from denouncing Mr. Trump as a madman and unfit for the presidency, to lining up at Trump mall for a chance to sit on Santa Trump’s lap, smiling as the cameras snap their picture. What a kick to see Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan giving up naughty for nice. It’s doubtful that Santa will give all or even most of them the presents they asked for, but I admire their willingness to make a wish list and give Santa a try.
I have gone through a similar transformation and acceptance with regard to Christmas itself. When I was entering the ministry in the late ’80s, evangelicals were making a huge effort to suppress all of the “secular” holiday traditions that were overtaking one of the most sacred Christian celebrations. Gift-obsessed commercialism, pagan Christmas trees, and bad holiday TV specials were overtaking the coming of Christ. In our Sunday School classes, prayer partners gave way to Secret Santas. In the public square, we had to avoid any specific references to Christ. No longer could JC Penney say “Merry Christmas” to me as I entered the hardware section to buy my dad yet another random tool. The only greetings allowed were the inclusive, secular, and benign “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” Baby Jesus disappeared from mainstream media and wouldn’t show up again until Will Ferrell brought him back in that amazing prayer scene in Talladega Nights.
As an idealistic young Baptist ministerial student, I was at first caught up in the “let’s hate Christmas trappings movement.” For many of us, it wasn’t the Grinch who stole Christmas, it was Santa who stole Christmas. In our minds, Santa Claus had emerged as a “salvation by works” pseudo-deity. Santa gained all the kids’ Christmas attention by sailing through the sky on a sled full of Nintendos while poor Jesus was stuck in his manger somewhere in a dying Presbyterian church. The Christian Bah-Hum-Buggery got so bad that I remember hearing someone call St. Nick “Satan Clause!”
But then I had sort of an epiphany. I was riding in an office elevator somewhere in the early ’90s, far from any Baptist church. Suddenly, I noticed “Joy to the World” subtly playing in the background. I thought to myself, “If some un-churched stressed out soul hears ‘Joy to the World’ playing in an office elevator at a time when he really needs it, then all this Christmas stuff is worth it.” I got over myself and decided that in throwing out the bathwater, we risked throwing out the baby Jesus. Then I decided I didn’t even want to throw out the bath. I realized that if we did succeed in throwing out all the popular Christmas-tradition bathwater, Christmas as a holiday outside the Church would cease to exist, and then maybe nobody outside the church would ever again hear “Joy to the World.”
I think something similar has happened within the ranks of the idealistic Republicans. Certainly, Santa Trump has never really represented the true meaning of Republicans. They fought long and hard for more than a year to keep their Republicanism pure and free from all of the Trump Trappings. “This is not who we are!” “This is not what we stand for!” “This is not our sacred Republican tradition.” Mr. Trump won the nomination anyway, and then Mr. Trump won the election anyway. And suddenly, the Republicans realized a couple of things like I did when I heard “Joy to the World” in an elevator.
- This isn’t so bad. There’s a lot of things we agree on. At least now we have access to the Santa throne.
And maybe more importantly,
- Doubting Republicans realized they probably wouldn’t have Christmas at all if not for Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump drew out the Republican vote and fueled victory for a lot of Republicans who would otherwise be selling shoes or running a small-town car dealership come January 1.
So just as the Christmas spirit is back for me and most of us in the church, most Republicans are looking forward to a Trumpy New Year. Some Democrats and a few Republicans, to be sure, are still protesting the corruption of the presidency with all the passion of a seminary student watching the post-modern culture dismantle his nativity scene. I admit I’m a little nervous every day wondering which elf Santa Trump is going to appoint to what post. But as we approach the new year, I am going to relax and open Santa’s presents one at a time, knowing full well he will give us a few fruitcakes. Though Mr. Trump’s version is unlikely to sound as cool as Springsteen’s, like it or not, “Santa Trump is Comin’ to Town.”