shopping malls

Holy ghost in my past: How I blew my chance to explore the faith of the 'real' Santa Claus

Holy ghost in my past: How I blew my chance to explore the faith of the 'real' Santa Claus

Our own Terry Mattingly is no fan of the commercialized, mall-defined Santa Claus.

In a GetReligion post last year, tmatt asked:

Why pass on the beloved lie that is Santa Claus?

I don't disagree often with our editor (who is devoted to the St. Nicholas of the ancient church), but personally, I love the jolly ole elf with the red suit and white beard.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason is that I grew up in a Church of Christ household where we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday, but not a religious one. (For more details on that, check out this 2005 piece I wrote for The Christian Chronicle.)


Last week in the Dallas Morning News, I read a feature on a black Santa who has made headlines this Christmas season.

Like me, the Morning News writer obviously believes in Santa. Her lede makes that obvious:

Although his job takes him to the North Pole and other faraway places, this Santa — the first black St. Nick at the Mall of America — would prefer to work closer to home. 
Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran, returned to Irving on Monday after spending four days greeting children and handing out candy canes at Minnesota's Mall of America.
While he said his time in Minnesota was amazing, Jefferson would prefer to keep his workshop in Dallas Fort-Worth, and hopes to one day open a winter wonderland storefront.
In the meantime, he has gigs lined up at the Uber office in Dallas (he's also an Uber driver), the S.M. Wright Foundation's Christmas in the Park at Fair Park, and this weekend at the Irving Wal-Mart.
Jefferson was chosen for the historic Mall of America job after Landon Luther, the co-owner of the Santa Experiencephoto studio in the mall, sent his elves out in search for a more diverse Santa, the Star-Tribune reported.

The potential — and unexplored — religion angle comes later in the Dallas story:

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Journalists (and clergy) fail to note that Schlafly won a political battle, but lost larger war

Journalists (and clergy) fail to note that Schlafly won a political battle, but lost larger war

You know that feeling you get when you are trying to think of a name -- a person or an institution, perhaps -- but you just can't get it to pop into focus? The hard drive in your mind spins and spins and you can see hints at the data you're seeking, but not the real thing.

Trust me, this happens more when you pass 60 years of age.

It's even more disconcerting when this happens while you are on the air doing radio or a podcast, as I was again earlier this week chatting with "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken. (Click here to tune that in.) We were talking about the late Phyllis Schlafly and the fact that she was the rare moral and cultural conservative who won a major political -- repeat "political" -- battle in the public square. However, she lost her larger war with the most powerful principalities and powers in our land. As I wrote in my earlier post:

... She won her battle against the ERA, but lost the much larger war with Hollywood, trends in public education and the all-powerful worldview of shopping malls from coast to coast.
Of course, Schlafly's other major accomplishment in life was helping create a large space for religious and cultural conservatives inside the big tent of the modern Republican Party. In many ways, she was -- as a wealthy Catholic woman who was Phi Beta Kappa in college and later earned a law degree -- a unique rebel against the GOP Country Club establishment that found many of her causes embarrassing (and still does).
This is one place where I thought the mainstream obits missed an opportunity to probe a bit deeper. No one is surprised that the left hated this woman.

Now, I was trying to think of a young, popular, post-feminist figure in American pop culture who stands for the whole concept that being "hot," "edgy" and even "nasty" is a sign of empowerment, if not enlightenment, for girls.

In other words, I was trying to think of Taylor Swift. Since I am old, what came out -- as you'll hear in the podcast -- was a reference to Madonna. Talk about embarrassing.

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This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

It's the question that drives editors crazy in this age of click-bait media: Why do some stories go viral, while others do not?

How about viral news stories in which there is little or no evidence that there is actually a story to be reported in the first place?

I'm talking, of course, about the spew your liquid caffeine on your keyboard levels of media attention dedicated to the Starbucks hates Christmas story that broke out this week, after the usual craziness in social-media land. See the post by our own James Davis with the pun-tastic headline, "Red Cup Diaries: Mainstream media cover Starbucks' Christmas brew-haha." Apparently, there is some kind of pay-cable reference in that naughty headline, too, but that went over my head.

On Facebook, I offered this mini-rant:

Is it acceptable for me to be very upset that millions of Xians think that it's already Christmas and we haven't even started Nativity Lent yet? I mean, who runs their churches, the god of the local mall?

The graphic at the top of this post, passed along by the edgy and hilarious graphic novelist Doug TenNapel, says it all.

At least, I thought it said it all, until M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway, now with The Federalist, went old-school GetReligion on this mess in a piece that ran under this headline: "Nobody Is Actually Upset About The Starbucks Cup. Stop Saying Otherwise." MZ did her thing, but then turned this piece into some completely different -- making it must reading for journalists facing the challenge of finding valid pre-Christmas stories to cover this year (and every year, come to think of it). Her piece opened with this summary:

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Concerning 'holiday movies,' 'Christmas movies' and the civil religion found in shopping malls

Concerning 'holiday movies,' 'Christmas movies' and the civil religion found in shopping malls

It was one of quieter moments in the Christmas classic "Home Alone," tucked in between the church-pew chat with the scary next door neighbor and the open warfare between young Kevin McCallister and the "wet bandits." Do you remember the line?

Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen.

As prayers go, it wasn't much. However, this iconic moment also featured an heroic America child making the sign of the cross as he blessed his food. That's not your typical Hollywood gesture, either.

It caught my attention and it also intrigued the conservative Jewish film critic Michael Medved, especially when the film became a (surprise!) runaway hit with a US box-office gross the came close to $300,000,000.

I talked to Medved about the film back in 1991 -- pre-WWW, so no URL to that full column -- and he told me that "Home Alone" was a perfect example of a typical "holiday movie" that, with just a few nods of respect for faith and family, turned into a box-office smash that is also known as a true "Christmas movie."

I've been interested in this phenomenon ever since and, this week, that served as the hook for the latest GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Now, there is much that can be said about that "holiday movie" tag.

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