Many parents experience a serious problem during Christmas: starting around 5 years old, most children begin questioning the reality of Santa Claus. In the near future, they will probably doubt Santa even earlier because it seems that rising intelligence in industrial countries is trickling down to the youngest ones. Children today are increasingly aware how the world works—and how it doesn’t.
So, what are the potential repercussions on Santa over the long term? My sense is that his figure could literally die out, given that the rationale of his existence is subject to severe logical flaws children can easily spot. How can he possibly deliver presents to more than 2.2 billion children in a SINGLE night? (Sure, you can pull out the time-zone argument, but any reasonably smart kid won’t buy into that.) How does he fit down the chimney, and what if you live in a chimney-free apartment? Is he really manufacturing all those presents for children everywhere? And why is Uncle Arnold dressed like Santa?
If Santa Claus wants to maintain his meaning in Christmas festivities, I suggest we need a serious revamping of his identity, a modernization if you will. I suggest we focus on what he’s best at: being a public figure. But not just any kind. Some of our most iconic figures of this century—like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk—all have one thing in common: they are entrepreneurs. So, let’s revision Santa Claus as an entrepreneurial success story in the high-tech era.
Picture this: Santa Claus is actually the inventor and founder of an interactive online Christmas market platform. This idea solves lots of problems that keep Santa Claus stuck in the 20th century: reading hand-written wish lists with bad spelling; checking in with parents on the annual performance of their children; manufacturing millions of gifts in-house; and delivering to all recipients via a single (eco-unfriendly) reindeer sleigh.
A digital Christmas platform solution would make the entire process much more reliable and practical. For instance, instead of deciphering millions of badly hand-written letters mailed at extreme environmental cost, children would simply compile their wish list online, selecting from items available. Each gift on the platform would be worth a certain amount of points, and children would need collect sufficient points via an integrated 360-degree feedback system. Chores like helping out in the house, being nice to friends and family, visiting grandparents – all these achievements would be captured in the system and verified by family and friends.
At the end of each year, an algorithm would match the total number of points earned with each kid’s wish list and automatically send a report to parents a few weeks before Christmas. Parents would then see how their children performed and for which gifts they are eligible. Next, the parents could choose the right gifts and easily order them from within the app.
Furthermore, instead of sending production notices to the North Pole’s manufacturing facilities, Santa would simply tap into the benefits of cooperating with existing retailers. This alleviates the strain of Santa’s production running in the red for decades, which shouldn’t surprise us given the diversity of products his little helpers have to produce which bear huge costs in his antiquated facilities that lack automation.
Santa the entrepreneur would instead charge a small commission fee for the product placement and directly forward the orders to local retailers. By cooperating with businesses, he would immediately cut the immense costs for production, transportation, and delivery of gifts. Instead of thousands of little helpers employed under dubious working conditions, others more qualified would handle production. Instead of procuring widely, he would only be responsible for mediating between parents and retailers. And instead of delivering all those presents through the chimney, the gifts would travel via regular parcel services, decreasing the carbon footprint caused by his reindeers and contributing to national sustainability goals as delivery distributors increasingly switch to emission-free vehicles.
The biggest benefit is that we can stop lying to our children. Revamping the story of Santa Claus and bringing him into the 21st century allows us to keep up the image of an illusionary figure without breaking simple logic. We can turn the modern version of Santa into a high-tech entrepreneur who facilitates Christmas with his online platform that connects present-buyers with present-sellers and makes a profit by charging transaction fees. There is also the added value of providing parents with a more holistic annual evaluation of their little present-receivers.
Stripping the idea of Santa Claus from all its illusions, however, will also reveal the commercial and materialistic nature of contemporary Christmas celebrations. The tech-entrepreneur Santa Claus in fact mirrors the exact role that his persona currently plays in our society, which is to disguise the gift-giving logic based on the performance of children. We reward the good children and punish the bad. But let’s be honest: who is really cruel enough to leave even their little brats without gifts?
In effect, the existing story of Santa Claus drives our purposeless consumption. It largely ignores the traditional ideals of Saint Nicholas who gives without reason and primarily to the poor. It also ignores the Christian tradition of Christmas celebrations. We’ve transformed Christmas into a celebration of consumption, and Santa Claus the tech-entrepreneur would only become its purest personification.
So, let me suggest a further shift in Santa Claus the tech-entrepreneur. He is also a social entrepreneur who redirects the logic of Christmas for the better. For example, his interactive online platform could allow children to consider donating their gifts to the less fortunate.
How long then should we wait for some iconic Santa Claus to invent such interactive online platform? Well, here’s the point: we don’t need to wait at all. It does not require technical solutions to save Santa Claus in the technology era. We can be social entrepreneurs ourselves and find ways how to share the real purpose of Christmas in every action that promotes altruism and mindfulness. In that way, everyone has an opportunity to be Santa to others, even our 21st century children.
PhD candidate, Business Administration