I have never, in my many Christmas travels and mania, seen the 1985 The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus. Not until my homie forever gifted me a Rankin Bass holiday dvd did this magic unfold. It starts with a council meeting and the threat of the spirit of death taking Santa Claus from the world. One mantle of immortality can be bestowed on anyone of their choosing. Is Santa worthy?
Based on a 1902 book by L. Frank Baum it weaves a mythological tale of Santa Claus with immortals that are embodied as woodland sprites and spirits, elementals and various fairies. The puppets are masterpieces and hearken a Carrington or Varo painting. The most artful Rankin Bass I’ve ever seen.
Never having read the book I’m not sure of the faithfulness of this interpretation. It tells of a baby left to die in a snowy forest but is saved by the immortal Ak. He puts a lioness in charge of the baby to protect and feed the abandoned child. A wood nymph breaks the code of immortals by taking the baby to care for and finds motherhood fills the emptiness that haunted her. She names him Neclaus. Neclaus learns the language of the natural world and his besties are those who rule and temper nature.
When he is old enough to enter back into the world of mortals Ak takes him on a depressing journey. He sees the oppression of the poor, the futility of war and the neglect and abuse of children. That leads him to ask the age-old question, “What is the purpose of man?” Ak answers, “To leave the world better than when you found it.” Word.
As he lives among the mortals he finds his vocation is in the care and loving of not only the forgotten children but in all children and treating them with the same love. A little kindness makes all the difference in the cold and selfish world. And according to Santa Claus, “In all the world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.”
His sainthood is cemented by his good works and gentle spirit. Risking his life fighting the invisible demons the Awgwas to bring happiness to the children. The scene in the cave of the tormented and kidnapped Santa is reminiscent of the temptations of St. Anthony of the desert. With the Awgas, determined to kill Santa so they can lure children to do evil, the immortals intervene in a war of good vs. evil. In the end we are assured that light will always triumph over darkness.
When death is near for Santa Claus he needs no mantle of immortality to live forever though the council votes ‘yes’ to make him, “one of us, one of us.” His goodness has made him loved and known to the world and the generations will always proclaim his deeds as we do in the spirit of St Nicholas. He will find life everlasting personally and in the best of humanity. As his wood sprite mother kisses Neclaus to awaken him to his immorality we are reminded of the promise of the same. A promise born over two thousand years ago today. We remember this and rejoice in it each year. Let kindness, love and hope be born in us once more. Merry Christmas.