As I write this, it's almost the night before Christmas, and along with last-minute holiday shopping and plans for family reunions and gift-giving all around, it's time for the kids to have their parents read again to them Clement C. Moore's* A Visit from St. Nicholas so the kids can meditate upon visions of sugar-plums and of flying reindeer, a sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
But there's been recent unrest about St. Nick as a role model for modern children. For example, NPR described one modern Santa's crusade against childhood obesity: "Bill Winton sits in for the real Santa at a shopping center in Edinburgh, Scotland. He says he's not wearing the pillow under his Santa Suit anymore. Winton noticed that kids on his lap were getting heavier. And he thinks fat Santas are partly to blame. He tells the BBC, if Santa is a role model, then his body shape is where it should start."
And a survey of shopping-mall Santas in Scotland revealed them to have an average waist size of 47 inches - seven inches more than is considered safe: having a waist circumference of more than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women is a key indicator of abdominal obesity and is associated with a greater risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
I'm concerned that St. Nick, as portrayed by Moore in "A Visit", may well have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. He certainly seems likely to have the metabolic syndrome: one key factor for the syndrome is abdominal obesity, and Moore described St. Nick as having "a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump - a right jolly old elf." And he is increasing his risk for type 2 diabetes by smoking (see my recent commentary, Smoking may be a risk factor for diabetes).
One good thing St. Nick was doing was getting lots of exercise: "He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose. He sprang to his sleigh..." Assuming that he was doing that repetitively world-wide in the span of one night, he had quite a bit of exercise.
So what should modern Santas do? Well, first, be a role model and dump the fat suit. Second, stop smoking. Third, like St. Nick, get lots of exercise. And skip the extra cookies and milk. And practice exclaiming, as St. Nick did in the final line of the poem,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
* Note from the grinch: Although Clement Clark Moore is usually considered the author, and apparently first told his family the tale in about 1823, there's an alternate theory that the original author might have been Henry Livingston, Jr., as early as about 1800.
Published On: December 23, 2007