Opinion

St. Nicholas: The Birth Of A Social Weapon

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Christmas season in New York City looked nothing like it looks today. It more resembled a Mardi Gras. People, mostly young men, took to the streets in a rowdy public display, some forming what appeared to be marching bands that consisted of roaming mobs carrying anything that made noise. Their aim was to cause disruption and, for one brief period of time, flip the tables on authority and society’s elite. Many would go door-to-door targeting the town’s upper class, requesting entry by singing intimidating songs – the lyrics of which grew more hostile if entry were refused. Upon entering, some would sing or perform makeshift plays and wouldn’t leave without food, alcohol, or other gifts. And New York City wasn’t the only city experiencing this phenomenon. Places like Philadelphia and throughout the New England area fell victim to this time of misrule – as it came to be known – where otherwise unacceptable behavior was widely tolerated … or at least expected. Every year, law enforcement would lose control of the streets, elites would feel uneasy, merchants would be frustrated, and the clergy appalled. A weapon was desperately needed to combat this unwelcomed annual invasion.

That weapon would quietly arrive on Christmas Eve 1822. With the entire household gathered on that chilly evening in his Chelsea Mansion, Clement Clarke Moore would enter the history books as he unleashed it for the first time… “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…” By the end of his recital, one of the most powerful social weapons in American history was born.

What happened next would start the phenomenon. The verses were apparently copied into the album of a family member not long after they were first uttered. This unnamed woman would then let her friend from Troy (New York) copy the poem, who then carried it to the editor of the Troy Sentinel. Roughly a year later, on December 23, 1823, the Sentinel published “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” A 1,500 year-old saint would transform into what we now know as Santa Claus. The poem would soon resonate throughout society. Its amplification occurred during the Christmas season of 1824 when no less than four new almanacs – then-essential annual publications containing important seasonal information – included Moore’s poem. Other newspapers would follow suit — the Saturday Evening Post, the New York Morning Courier, the Schenectady Whig, The Poulson’s Daily Advertiser, and many more published Moore’s cheerful lyrics. Newsboys began using the poem in what were called carrier’s addresses – one-page flyers used to extract holiday tips from customers. Advertisers turned to Moore’s jolly character to help peddle their goods. Within a decade, lightning speed for the time, the entire country learned about the joys of a domestic St. Nicholas Christmas through Moore’s poem.

Roughly 200 years since his invention, Santa Claus has had an immeasurable impact on American society — and capitalism. Holiday retailers expect November and December 2015 sales to reach $630.5 billion, an increase of 3.7 percent over last year. St. Nicholas’ effect on the music industry alone has been enormous. By the weekend after Thanksgiving 2015, 486 radio stations flipped to 24/7 Christmas music that will continue until the day after Santa’s arrival. A New Jersey station made news in 2014 for starting two full weeks before Halloween! That same year, an enterprising music enthusiast found that there were almost one million different Christmas related songs on Spotify. Santa has even created entirely new industries. “There are approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. every year,” claims the National Christmas Tree Association – yes there is actually an association — with close to 350 million currently growing, that are planted by 15,000 different Christmas tree farmers. And no less than 3,000 different greeting card publishers exist, selling 1.6 billion units of Christmas cards each year. And not to overlook the countless Christmas related movies, holiday parades, and Santa impersonators in a shopping mall near you. Santa has affected the food industry, clothing industry, publishing industry, travel industry, and … well just about every market imaginable.

How does a slender, olive-skinned bishop from an ancient Mediterranean port city become the chubby, rosy-cheeked cultural phenomenon we know today? The answer reveals a process that we witness and participate in every day, and demonstrates why some ideas succeed while others fade into oblivion.

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Human culture is more or less a theater of war, whether it be on the actual field of battle, in the streets as protests, or between feuding religious groups … it’s inescapable. We observe and experience this struggle on the retail shelf, on the campaign trail, in the news cycle, in office politics, and even with our neighbors. We are at war, whether we like it or not. We are at war with one another, at war with collectives of others, at war with our environment, and at war with the system. When you finally succumb to this reality, the tools, or social weapons, of this warfare come into view. A social weapon is a packaged idea, message, or product that is used by an individual or group to advance their cause in this field of war that we call life. We use them to draw supporters, compete with rivals, shield us from attack, or some combination of all the above. Pundits fashion social weapons from a candidate’s gaffe to pounce on their ideological foes. Terrorists cast them from the passages of their holy book to incite their followers. Companies create them from the preferences of their target audience to attract new customers. We see and use social weapons time and time again to further our causes.

Perhaps the best place to analyze the development of a social weapon is in the unexpected battleground of Christmas. You may even be surprised to learn that Santa got his first big break combating the world’s oldest profession.  

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Either through actual conception or ideation, St. Nicholas was born in Patara sometime in the third century AD. Located in modern-day Turkey, Patara was a flourishing commercial and maritime city on the Mediterranean coast. He was the scion of wealthy parents. Both died when he was young, leaving him a very rich orphan, but contrary to the inertia of our time, young Nicholas did not adopt an entitled demeanor. In fact, his innate giving nature led to the first iteration of the social weapon we now know as Santa Claus – a kind of Santa 1.0.

As the story goes, a once rich nobleman and neighbor of young Nicholas fell on hard financial times – a circumstance exasperated by the fact that he had three young and attractive unmarried daughters. The absence of a dowry left these girls in a precarious situation because the available suitors of the time would not marry a young lady lacking resources, no matter how appealing to the eye. If the nobleman and his daughters were to survive, he’d have to find employment for each in a brothel. When word of the man’s predicament found its way to young Nicholas, this eventual saint felt it his moral responsibility to help the family. But for fear of embarrassing the proud nobleman, he decided to assist him anonymously.

In the dark of the night, Nicholas journeyed to the father’s home and while the household was sleeping, he threw one bag of gold into the family’s window. When the nobleman awoke to the surprise gift, he rejoiced – using it to immediately find a suitor for his eldest daughter. Once word reached Nicholas that his gift helped the poor nobleman’s first-born, he again traveled in the dark of the night to the same window and delivered a second bag of gold. Upon finding the new gift, the nobleman quickly married off his second eldest daughter and turned to god – praying that he’d learn who this charitable soul was to thank him. Laying in wait one evening, the poor nobleman heard a third bag drop and went in pursuit to learn the identity of his benefactor. When he recognized young Nicholas, he fell to his feet in appreciation. But Nicholas desired anonymity and requested that the nobleman not repeat that he had helped him. The nobleman agreed and promptly found a suitor for his youngest daughter. Family crisis averted.

This story became known as Three Daughters and its proliferation cannot be overstated. It appeared in every available artistic format of the time and would go on to be represented in regions as geographically disparate as Italy, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Crete, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, Romania, Georgia, Estonia, the Netherlands, and…well you get the picture. The fact that so many references to Three Daughters have survived, even after the Reformation – a historical period where saintly iconography was specifically targeted for destruction – is a testament to the narrative’s cultural resonance. This simple gesture, the act of helping the downtrodden in need, is a story that almost anyone can relate to and understand, especially the common man. Through this tale, he would be forever known as the nighttime gift-giver of the young. St. Nicholas didn’t need to die a martyr’s death to be remembered. He just needed to find his way in the dark of night to the home of a person in need and impart a gift, with nothing but anonymity asked in return. But anonymity he did not get.

Young Nicholas went on to become the Bishop of Myra, a mercantile town and neighboring port to Patara. He lived a long life, and became renowned for his virtuous conduct, yet stern defense of Christianity. In a brief lapse of judgment, he even famously struck a Jesus detractor – an act that likely laid the groundwork for his future indulgence in creating a naughty list. He would die, not a horrible death as many of his peers, but simply when his time had come. He was buried in a marble tomb within a crypt of a cathedral dedicated to him in Myra. The date of his entry into heaven, December 6th, would come to be known as St. Nicholas Day – a time for celebration.

Residing in the port town of Myra was a stroke of good fortune for St. Nicholas. When the pagan gods fell to Christianity, sailors needed to a replacement for Poseidon as their ocean overseer in desperate times at sea. St. Nicholas fulfilled that need, becoming the patron saint of sailors. The designation of patron saint denotes a protector – a type of overseer of a family, group, class of citizen, trade or craft, city, or even an entire nation. It is hard for our contemporary culture to fully grasp the importance of patron saints in the days of old. They were called upon in times of need and were specific heavenly advocates for those they watched over. St. Nicholas sat at the pinnacle of this belief. As the highly regarded St. Nicholas historian Charles W. Jones once noted, “according to the consensus of informed historians, the cult of St. Nicholas was, before the Reformation, the most intensive of any non-biblical saint in Christendom.” St. Nicholas has been named the patron saint of more causes than any of his peers. In addition to sailors and ships, he became the patron saint of the innocent and wrongly condemned. Possibly because of the Three Daughters story, he became the overseer of children, marriage and conception. Entire countries like Italy, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and whole cities such as Amsterdam and Moscow would eventually call him their patron saint. But it was his calling to sailors that helped broadcast his message.

Journey by sea was the mode of transportation that reached far off lands, and St. Nicholas was invoked in dire times throughout the voyage. It has been said that one could start a journey by ship not knowing St. Nicholas, but by the end was surely aware of his useful purpose. It would be through this seabound distribution network that the message of St. Nicholas would be broadcast throughout Europe and beyond — eventually insuring his survival when confronting his next major hurdle.

In the eleventh century, Myra was under constant siege from an expanding Muslim reach. The relics of saints were highly coveted in this time. Entire cathedrals were erected to surround these artifacts and followers made long pilgrimages to be in their presence. Fearing that St. Nicholas’ relics would be destroyed by the growing influence of Islam in the region, sailors from Bari (Italy) embarked on a daring raid of his tomb in Myra in 1087. The event would become widely known as The Translation of St. Nicholas and it was reported by practically every Western chronicler of the time. His remains were brought to Bari – their arrival marked with grand celebration.

Bari was a lot like Myra in that it was a critical port city that sat on the Mediterranean. But unlike Myra, the power of St. Nicholas was safe from the growing influence of Islam. The opening of his sealed tomb in Myra also allowed “remnants” of his relics to find their way into other city cathedrals throughout Europe. They became broadcasting centers for St. Nicholas, increasing the points on the globe amplifying his message. This powerful social weapon would continue to be invoked by the many groups that claimed him as their patron saint, and through the distribution network of sailing channels out of his new home in Bari, St. Nicholas’ message would continue to be introduced into, and resonate within, Europe’s Christian enclaves.

An important new technology was introduced shortly after this time that would modify the legend of St. Nicholas in an important way. Until the thirteenth century, the only common pathways into the home were the window and the door. That would change with the introduction of the chimney. The Little Ice Age had begun, where temperatures dropped enough to make places like Greenland turn white with ice. To combat the cold, chimneys started to become commonplace. And this was crucial to the development of St. Nicholas. Windows and doors were where vagabonds and thieves entered, but these surprise intruders could not come through the chimney. A passage to the warmth and heart of the home was opened, and St. Nicholas made his first known entrance in a Three Daughters fresco in Serbia painted around 1392. In it, the artist shows St. Nicholas delivering his gift of gold to the poor nobleman through a chimney pipe. The social weapon was adjusted and made considerably more palatable and potent.

All social weapons need to have the flexibility to be modified with the tastes and needs of the time in order to survive. A rigid construct will surely leave it vulnerable to extinction. St. Nicholas was no different. The social weapon was undergoing a necessary transformation. His influence was becoming more secular. His use began to expand beyond the church. He started to enter the home – becoming part of the family – and this would be crucial if he were to survive his next obstacle — the Reformation.

Until the sixteenth century, saints reigned in the church — their images and symbols dispersed throughout all of its mediums. St. Nicholas was at the center of this spectacle. But that would change with The Protestant Reformation. The Protestants felt that the Catholic Church’s practice of praying to saints, and even celebrating Christmas, had no biblical basis, was a sign of paganism, and a corruption of Christianity. They went on a campaign to deemphasize the influence of the saints. St. Nicholas’ public prominence suffered. The lack of surviving Three Daughters images in England after the Reformation showed just how successful the English Protestants were in their efforts. But what shielded St. Nicholas from total oblivion during this time was that his message resonated so broadly that he had moved from out of the Church and into the home in areas like the Netherlands. There, when the Dutch Reformed Church banned saint worship, it was taken up in secret churches throughout the country. Families began celebrating St. Nicholas Day privately in the home with a feast and gift giving to children. Even with the Dutch Protestants passing statutes banning the creation of St. Nicholas cookies, a popular celebration treat, the social weapon would survive this attack – an important development for when the Dutch would later settle in New Amsterdam, or what we now call the southern tip of New York City.

Even with Protestants actively trying to eliminate the influence of the saints, the ones that survived this time had staying power because their presence within the mind of their followers was innately needed. Where the Catholic Church retained control, the saints still publicly survived. In places where the Protestants were successful in minimizing their influence, saint worship went into hiding. And where the Protestants were successful in eliminating even private worship, other forms of overseers, serving similar purposes as St. Nicholas, arose – ensuring the echo of his character would still remain. An example is the German Protestant invention of Christkindl, or Christ Child, to replace St. Nicholas as the Christmas season gift-giver. This being was intended to be the incarnation of Jesus as a child – thus not violating the Church’s saint rejection. The name Kris Kringle is derived from Christkindl, and this angelic child stands as a gift-giver in some parts of the world to this day. These invented gift-givers are useful tools that exist in many enclaves throughout the world because they naturally resonate within those cultures like a natural frequency within the physical world. This is no small point and leads to the core of the idea of a social weapon.

We are all familiar with the musical tuning instrument known as a tuning fork. When struck it gives off a sound by vibrating at a particular frequency. That frequency is what physicists call the tuning fork’s natural frequency – it’s the rate at which it naturally vibrates. If a vibrating tuning fork is held next to an identical but motionless tuning fork, the sound waves will eventually make the motionless fork vibrate without the two even touching. This physical phenomenon is known as resonance. A similar cultural phenomenon happens in our reaction to specific ideas, messages, or products. Our internal tuning forks naturally respond in predictable ways to these forms of stimuli. Resonance is a term that we commonly identify to describe when an idea, message, song, or other product is widely accepted by an audience. We say it resonates with that group. Ideas that evoke these innate responses within us are the most useful to those attempting to provoke a response from us.

These are the ideas that become the building blocks of a social weapon. It is our job as marketers, storytellers, politicians, evangelists, pundits, salesman, and the like to identify these innate responses – these kind of human natural frequencies — and ensure the ones that incite our target audience and benefit our causes are embedded within the social weapons we create and invoke. These are the ones we want in our arsenal to attack a societal problem, competing group, or target customer. And the social weapons that have the flexibility to be modified over long periods of time, to meet the changing needs of the audience, are the social weapons that continue to survive. A good example showing the benefits of this long-term flexibility is the Flat Earth social weapon.

It was widely thought that for Christopher Columbus to gain approval for his famous voyage West, he had to fight the Church’s belief that the Earth was actually flat, not spherical. It became a common view that Columbus faced near mutiny while in route to America because his crew feared they’d fall off the edge of the ocean. By the 1860s, stories like these even made their way into school history textbooks. Historians have shown, however, that long before Columbus’ voyage, the Flat Earth worldview was so exceedingly rare that it could be thought of as nonexistent. Tellingly, the source of this misconception may be traced to Washington Irving’s biography of Christopher Columbus. In it, the author painted the picture of Columbus arguing with the clergy over their Flat Earth model of the world before gaining authorization for his exploration. But that specific argument never occurred.

Irving’s biography of Columbus was largely historical fiction – his creative mind likely found humor in this fabricated conflict. It is true that Columbus argued with his benefactors, but not over a Flat Earth – they argued over distance. The authority was concerned that Columbus was miscalculating the distance to Asia such that he wouldn’t be able to load enough food and supplies to make the voyage. In other words, it was not reaching the edge of the Earth that would cause a mutiny … rather it was reaching the edge of starvation. This Flat Earth myth would go on to be used by Darwinians later in the nineteenth century to impugn religious doctrines on the origins of life in favor of evolution. The church became Flat Earthers. The myth had become weaponized. So resilient is this social weapon that it is still used today against skeptics of global warming and anyone looking to label someone as anti-science. It has proven to be flexible, making it useful to various groups throughout the ages. This is the key to how a successful social weapon continues to exist … it can be modified to retain its usefulness over time. A social weapon that has the flexibility to be modified in such a way that it continues to resonate with a target audience, and hence remains useful to the group invoking it, are the social weapons that survive and thrive. The ones that are no longer useful, or cannot be modified to retain their resonation, are discarded. This latter trait is why hot news stories die, once popular products become passé, and potent political movements eventually fade. The social weapon we now know as Santa Claus has been remarkably flexible to modification in a way that has ensured its survival. The Reformation’s attempt to eliminate its use would not mark the end of its days.

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In the early 1800s, the Christmas season in New York City was plagued with a carnival atmosphere. Annual rowdy behavior occupied the streets. At the time, there wasn’t even a widely observed date for these disruptive celebrations. The season was a hodgepodge of days that started sometime in early December and stretched out past New Year’s Day. Noisy mobs would just randomly form throughout this timespan. Frustration grew among high society, merchants, clergyman, and law enforcement. Then something happened. A small group of elites, known later as the Knickerbockers, set out to form a weapon to combat this yearly raucous behavior, with the ultimate goal of domesticating the holidays. The first known to start this campaign was John Pintard. What we would now call a mover and shaker, Pintard was a merchant and one-man whirlwind that played a part in establishing George Washington’s birthday and the Fourth of July as important American holidays. The cornerstone of his campaign was to reestablish the Old World’s St. Nicholas Day celebration of December 6th as a day of sober family centered celebration. With historians finding little evidence of a cult of St. Nicholas being introduced into early America, how could Pintard have thought this effort would succeed? Although there are few documented traces of his import, St. Nicholas did in fact make the jump to the New World.

The Dutch were the first to settle in the area now known as New York City. Notable for their resistance to saint suppression in their homeland, the early colonial Dutch show hints of St. Nicholas worship, including a 1675 account of a Dutch baker that sold Sinterklaas goods. Sinterklaas is the Dutch name for St. Nicholas. Celebration of the saints was outlawed by the Dutch Reformed Church at the time, but evidently St. Nicholas still had a place in some colonial Dutch homes.

By December 1773, a now famous newspaper article ran in Rivington’s Gazetteer showing that St. Nicholas was living below the fold. “Last Monday the anniversary of St. Nicholas, otherwise called Santa Claus, was celebrated at Protestant Hall, at Mr. Waldron’s; where a great number of the sons of that ancient saint celebrated the day with great joy and festivity,” claimed the paper. Waldron’s was a tavern in the Brooklyn area frequented by New Yorkers. The following year the Gazetteer noted another St. Nicholas anniversary “celebrated by the descendants of the ancient Dutch families.” However, there weren’t enough Dutch in New York City to justify a citywide celebration of St. Nicholas Day. According to the best estimates of the time, the Dutch did not noticeably outnumber other non-English Europeans, and were outnumbered by Germans. But as we’ve seen, St. Nicholas had already shown the capacity to resonate with Europeans in every available Christian enclave up to the Reformation. The ancestors of these ancient St. Nicholas celebrators were now in New York City – no doubt carrying the St. Nicholas natural frequency along with them. The venerable saint was being celebrated below the public view within some communities, and laying dormant in others. John Pintard must have sensed this.

As early as 1793, in his mid-thirties, Pintard first noted St. Nicholas in his private almanac. In 1804, he helped found The New-York Historical Society. This organization would boast a who’s who of New York City as members, including the city’s mayor, and became a pivotal institution in the invention of Santa Claus. In 1808, a future member of The Society, and the Flat Earth popularizer, Washington Irving, mentioned St. Nicholas in his satirical periodical Salmagundi. It referenced “the noted St. Nicholas, vulgarly called Santaclaus — of all saints in the kalendar the most venerated by true Hollanders, and their unsophisticated descendants.”

About a year later, John Pintard’s Society toasted the venerated saint at an annual banquet. “To the memory of St. Nicholas. May the virtuous habits and simple manners of our Dutch ancestors be not lost in the luxuries and refinements of the present time.” Later that year in September 1809, on the 200th anniversary of the Dutch exploration landing in Manhattan, the same toast was repeated. The Saint’s name was unquestionably resonating in the minds of New York City’s elite. But it was the imagination of Washington Irving that transformed St. Nicholas from a bishop into something magical with the 1809 publication of his satire A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Irving published it on December 6th – St. Nicholas Day. This was not by chance. In Irving’s History, he fictionalized a long history of St. Nicholas in New Amsterdam, and described the many festivities on St. Nicholas Day in the colony. He references Santa Claus throughout his story, in one instance having him land on a rooftop in a horse and wagon, delivering presents down the chimney. The book was read widely by New York City’s elite and painted a picture of a city long under the protection of St. Nicholas. According to St. Nicholas historian Charles W. Jones, from 1809 on, “St. Nicholas was New York.” And at this time in New York City’s development, this was important.

Like Bari and Myra before it, New York City was quickly becoming the critical commerce center and trading port of the country. Many European immigrants would come to New York City before venturing to other parts of the United States. And as we’ve already seen, the idea of St. Nicholas once resonated broadly throughout their homelands. Now New York City was reintroducing him to the new country and immigrants – at a time that he was desperately needed.

The most potent of social weapons tend to find their birth in times of growth and instability. New York City in the first decades of the nineteenth century was fertile ground for such a weapon. It was a growing merchant city. Imported goods were coming in from Europe, and luxury, book, and jewelry stores were opening. But at the same time, annual misrule would take over the streets where this very commerce was supposed to take place. The growing civilized society, especially merchants and the elites, wanted and needed a weapon to stabilize this annual time of misbehavior. And they found it in St. Nicholas.

On December 6, 1810, a year after the publication of Irving’s History, John Pintard would amplify the waves started by Irving when he launched a campaign to establish St. Nicholas Day celebration in New York City. He molded some of the magical ideas expressed in Irving’s History into a rudimentary social weapon and distributed it in the form of a flyer at a banquet for members of The New-York Historical Society. The piece debuted a newly engraved illustration and poem of gift-giver St. Nicholas, and the image included two children, one receiving gifts in their stocking hung on a hearth, the other receiving nothing. The first toast of the banquet was to “Sancte Claus.” Other poems and fictional depictions of St. Nicholas would follow.

By 1813, poet Clement Clarke Moore also joined The New-York Historical Society. But it was in 1821 that a former neighbor and friend of Moore’s published a short colorful book entitled The Children’s Friend. The book shows “Old Santeclaus” whimsically traveling, not in a horse drawn wagon, but by a single reindeer drawn sleigh. St. Nicholas’ magical characteristics were growing. But most notably, The Children’s Friend had Santa bringing his yearly gifts, not on St. Nicholas Day December 6th, but instead on Christmas Eve. This one slight modification to Pintard’s campaign proved to be the change St. Nicholas needed to become the potent social weapon he is today. For the same reason as New York City merchants and elites, a movement had taken hold in New England to observe December 25th as a day of solemn worship of Jesus Christ to combat the annual public rowdiness. The shift to St. Nicholas delivering gifts on Christmas Eve, followed by a domestic family-centered day of worship on Christmas Day, provided the necessary combination for all interest groups to use this newly crafted social weapon to domesticate the holiday.

When Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas poem took the Christmas Eve cue and packaged the concept for mass consumption, Santa Claus had become the weapon everyone was waiting for. The elites that wanted to remove the targets from their backs invoked Santa Claus to domesticate the season. The gift producers, that needed a robust sales environment to combat the frugality of the time, looked to Santa to reduce the stigma of luxury purchases. The merchants that wanted stability in the streets to sell these products saw St. Nick as the perfect calming old soul. The Church that desired an end to the un-Christian like misrule saw Santa Claus as a necessary compromise. Thanks to St. Nicholas, the rowdiness in the streets turned from once accepted to now criminal conduct. And parents that welcomed a tool to control their children’s behavior saw the jolly old man as a valuable instrument. Santa Claus was the perfect social weapon to advance all of these groups’ causes. He’d become weaponized. And more users would enter the fray.

Santa would find his home, thanks to artist Thomas Nast, in the mysterious region of the North Pole — the neutral ground necessary for this gift-giver to resonate broadly. He would be depicted delivering gifts to the Union troops during the Civil War, helping to marginalize the Confederates. Coca-Cola would help popularize his image, and sell tons of their delicious carbonated bottles of joy in the process. Montgomery Ward would add to the myth of Santa Claus with its invention of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – creating a profit bonanza. Macy’s would stoke sales with its annual Thanksgiving Day parade, marking the arrival of Santa Claus in New York City. The new and improved St. Nicholas would be exported around the globe, where he arrived in England – a land that worked so diligently to marginalize his predecessor – as the reimagined Father Christmas. Japan would even find a love for the toy carrying chubby man. St. Nicholas has become one of the most powerful American social weapons ever conceived – one that has surprisingly found a purpose among capitalists, the policing authority, the government, the church, the media, and parents all along its development. That is the beauty of a versatile social weapon — it has enough flexibility to find use with many disparate groups.

Santa has been an enormous stabilizing instrument and growth vehicle during a season that was once much less stable. His wide utility guarantees his existence for the foreseeable future. Which may lead some to wonder — what will be the next social weapon to rise to the level of Santa Claus? Take a good look around you…because it’s probably already in development.  

Patrick Courrielche is a writer and cofounder of award-winning marketing and ideation firm Inform Ventures, LLC. A former aerospace engineer with a Masters of Science from UCLA, Courrielche lives in Los Angeles with his gorgeous wife and gifted daughter. Follow him on Twitter at @Courrielche.