Should Santa Be Replaced?

What gifts would Mother Earth bring? Experiences. Unlike a plastic toy that will be broken by April, in landfill by May, an experience will be remembered and replayed again and again, a legacy to your children and our planet that just may outlast all of us.
12/18/2015 06:23 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2016

"It's rude to be on-time," my mother always said. It was a myth she told to compensate for her inability to get 7 kids herded out of the house on time. So while I have yet to buy a present for my 10 nieces and nephews, this (P)rocrastinating)(A)unt (N)o (K)ids is panicked -- but not for the reason you think. Here's why: What if we have gift giving all wrong? Social psychologists have spent the last decade validating what our memories know for sure: we get more value from experiences than we do from from material possessions. Not only do we treasure experiences more, we value the anticipation of them, too.

So why are we still buying all these Christmas toys? We're awash in them! The average kid has 238 toys, but plays with only 12. What if the tradition of giving toys instead of experiences is wrong. And what about the guy who brings them -- Santa Claus -- what if he's wrong, too? Or maybe not wrong, but like smokestacks and coal, too 19th century.

Think about it. An obese white guy, wearing fur, drinking a Coke, eating cookies -- Hasn't he seen the movie, Fed Up? He probably has diabetes -- in a sleigh pulled by sweet little, inhumanely treated deer, working 24x7. And that bag of toys? Made from the hide of some cute little animal chased from his habitat by melting polar ice caps, I'm sure. Those plastic toys we don't need? Landfill. Don't even get me started on all those trees we cut down. We need a more modern mythical figure beyond Santa that speaks to who we are as a species, living on this fragile planet today, a myth that speaks to the world our children's children will be waking up to on Christmas morning in their future. We need one that goes beyond just replacing material possessions with experiences, because if myths are like little lies your mother told you -- survival stories -- we're screwed with Santa. But right now, the only alternative I'm seeing is that scary plastic Elf on the Shelf.

But then my Christmas compassion kicks in: maybe we should give Santa a second chance. And the marketer in me thinks, maybe we should just reposition him. I consult Tim Calkins, Clinical Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management. "Can we reposition Santa," I ask. Tim says, "yes, but the challenge is to hold onto his equities while updating some of his more problematic elements. He can keep his famous laugh, but he certainly needs to start eating better. He has virtually no social media presence, and those handwritten letters have got to go." I call Elon Musk, "shouldn't Santa drive a hybrid, a car/rocket ship?" I email Stella McCartney, "can you believe Santa still wears fur! Should his suit be green instead of red?"

My compassion digression, however, is just window dressing. We need someone new, someone with experience, someone who is already doing the job before they get the job -- that's right, a woman. We need a goddess, who can magically bless us with great gifts each year. Wait. That's Oprah. Nah. "Everyone gets a car! Everyone gets a car," would not make Mother Earth very happy, I think. And that's when it occurs to me: It's Mother Earth! That's who we need at Christmas. Sure she's a little crunchy, a little Portlandia, not to mention, pagan, but hey, so are Santa and Christmas trees. Since Moms have been doing the Santa shopping for a century, certainly the world is ready for a mythical Mother Earth to be the heroine of our holiday.

What gifts would Mother Earth bring? Experiences. Unlike a plastic toy that will be broken by April, in landfill by May, an experience will be remembered and replayed again and again, a legacy to your children and our planet that just may outlast all of us.

In the meantime, P.A.N.K's (and P.U.N.K's): rejoice. It's much easier to find last minute experiential gifts than it is to buy toys. Click on this link for ideas for kids. So the very best gift of all may be the one that's bought late. My mother was right after all: it's rude to be on-time.

Should Mother Earth Replace Santa Clause? What do you think?