“Miracle On 34th Street”…An Ethics Companion, Chapter One: “Meet Kris Kringle!”

The Introduction is here.

The movie tells us right at the start that 1) the charming old man in the white beard can’t possibly be Santa Claus, and 2) that he’s nuts. That is, he tells adults who are paying attention this as soon as he starts complaining to a New York City storekeeper that his window display has the reindeer mixed up: “You’ve got Cupid where Blitzen should be. And Dasher should be on my right-hand side. And another thing…Donner’s antlers have got four points instead of three!”

Let’s see:

  • No Christmas display has ever distinguished between Santa’s reindeer (except for Rudolph), because the individual reindeer have never had any identifying characteristics in reality or myth. Are we to assume that there are name-tags on the models? If so, why wouldn’t Kris be complaining about the features of all of them, not just “Donner’s” antlers?
  • The names of the reindeer, even if there are flying reindeer, were 100% the invention of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or “The Night Before Christmas,” originally published in 1823.  No one has ever claimed that the author had some kind of special info on the actual names of the reindeer when he wrote,

    More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
    And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

    “Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
    On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DUNDER and BLIXEN!

    …and anyway, if he did, those were their names 120 years before the movie takes place. Nobody has ever claimed the reindeer were immortal, either. I suppose Santa Claus, in a nod to the poem’s popularity (it has been called the most famous poem of all time), could have adopted the practice of always having the reindeer named after the poem’s versions, and when one Vixen dropped of old age, the young reindeer that took her place became the new Vixen.

I suppose.

  • A bigger problem is that the movie’s alleged “St. Nicholas” calls the seventh reindeer “Donner.” It gets confusing here. The original St. Nicholas was Greek, the Christian bishop of Myra, now Demre, in Lycia.  Nicholas gave gifts to the poor, in particular presenting three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes.  THAT would be neat poem! Saint Nicholas is buried in Italy. He was later claimed as a patron saint of children (also archers, sailors,  pawnbrokers, and the cities of Amsterdam and Moscow). The name “Santa Claus” is derived from the Netherlands version of St. Nick called Sinterklaas,  or “the Christmas man,” de Kerstman in Dutch. This explains “Dunder and Blixen,” meaning thunder and lightning in Dutch, and the movie later confirms Kris’s Dutch origins. (But why does he speak in a British accent?)

Never mind that: why would he call Dunder “Donner”? The “real” Santa wouldn’t. Though the original version of the poem got the names right (we know it’s Blixen and not “Blitzen” because it rhymes with Vixen), various editors, transcribers and  the author himself kept changing the names in subsequent printings. Dunder became “Donder” and eventually “Donner,” which is a meaningless Anglicizing of “Dunder.”

Santa Clause, aka Sinterklaas wouldn’t be confused: he named the beasts. He’s correcting the shop-keeper while passing along a misnomer?


Well, enough of that. The next scene shows Kris encountering the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa pre-parade. He instructs him in the use of his whip on the reindeer! In the German Santa mythology, the jolly old elf used the whip on naughty children, but nowadays, using a whip on either kids or reindeer is pretty much excised from Santa’s methods, and should have been in 1947. It’s an unethical image…

…even though artists have worked hard to confuse us….

No, an ethical Santa Claus wouldn’t use a whip. He also wouldn’t put a poor old guy with a drinking problem out of work during the holidays, but that’s what Kris does next. He smells liquor on the costumed Santa, and shows no mercy:

“Don’t you realize there are thousands of children… lining the streets waiting to see you… children who have been dreaming of this moment for weeks? You’re a disgrace to the tradition of Christmas… and I refuse to have you malign me in this fashion. Disgusting!”

Then he tracks down Doris Walker, who is in charge of the parade, and gets the man fired. That’s just mean; there’s no way around it. I bet a lot of Macy Santas have had a few nips before and during the parade, and so what? How hard is it to say “Ho Ho Ho”?

Kris manages to get Drunk Santa’s job, having single-handedly gotten him sacked, no pun intended.

Why is Kris, if he’s the real Santa Claus, hanging around New York City and moonlighting in the Macy’s parade when the big night is just around the corner? This is no time for a vacation or boondoggles. If he’s really Santa, he’s goofing off, and he has the gall to tell a temporary parade Santa that he’s risking disappointing children!

Kris is not off to a good start.

[To be continued!]

24 thoughts on ““Miracle On 34th Street”…An Ethics Companion, Chapter One: “Meet Kris Kringle!”

  1. The movie was released in 1947 (not 1949), and the parade scenes made use of the actual 1946 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

  2. Don’t forget, the real Saint Nicholas believes so deeply in the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, that he supposedly punched the lights out of those who refuse to join the Church council’s consensus.

    Arian…we’re looking at you here.

  3. This is a tough one, Jack. You almost always deal in real world situations, and even “It’s A Wonderful Life” was closer to reality and only had the question of religious faith. I think this movie might go a little too far into the realm of fantasy/fairy tale for reasonable, real-world ethical analysis to apply or work. That said, I’m only seeing the first part, and maybe I can’t judge the whole from only seeing part. That said, applying ethics analysis to some of the Disney classics could also be fun and point a few things out that we never thought of – like was it really ethical for the enchantress to trick an 11-year-old prince by disguising herself, then punish him with a very harsh curse as the Beast?

  4. Everybody knows Shakespeare wrote That Poem. No, now, wait a minute. Maybe Santa Claus was Shakespeare. I mean, those long snowy winter nights, with a thousand elf scribes a-scribbling … or were those monkeys. I forget. Nah. I had a cousin met Santa once, said he spoke English good, just like a real American, and that he liked her peanut butter crackers but didn’t drink the milk. He disappeared when she went to get him a beer from the fridge.

    And no, that movie is not fantasy, it’s an urban myth come to the big screen. Everybody knows he was reall… *nananananmmmphh*

  5. On the drunk Santa: I think Kris was right to inform Mrs. Walker that Santa was soused. If he was JUST in the parade it may not have been an issue, but even then, he went to sleep when Walker came back with Kris to confront him, how long would it have been before someone noticed he was passed out drunk, if Kris hadn’t told on him?

    It also seems the plan all along was for the parade Santa to take his place at the store and talk to kids. Do you REALLY think it would be good for a store Santa to be drunk? I know St. Nick is supposed to be jolly, but that seems to be pushing it. I always thought you’re not supposed to show up drunk, or drink on the job, in any vocation, especially one involving children.

    • The parade is on Thanksgiving Day. Macy’s was closed on Thanksgiving. There would be no contact with children. Sure, I’d fire him, if was his supervisor. But this is Santa Claus, supposedly, and he’s intervening in a workplace his isn’t a part of. I wouldn’t try to get anyone fired over the Holidays, and I’m not even a Saint.

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