[Guest post by Aaron Worthing. Follow me by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
Update: As mentioned in the comments, the Cancer Center has backed down. Good for them.
Ugh, it’s a bang-your-head-against-the-desk story:
It’s not even December, but Santa has already been fired from Charleston’s Hollings Cancer Center.
For each of the past two years, hospital volunteer Frank Cloyes spent one day as St. Nick, spreading good cheer and snacks to patients sitting through chemotherapy treatments. The 67-year-old James Island resident, a retired insurance executive who calls himself a “gregarious guy,” paid for his own costume rental.
On Tuesday morning, a volunteer coordinator told Cloyes his services no longer were needed.
“Because of our state affiliation, we decided not to have a Santa presence this year,” Hollings spokeswoman Vicky Agnew said. Hollings is a part of the Medical University of South Carolina.
Decorations will be “more secular and respectful to all beliefs,” Agnew said. “We don’t want to offend a volunteer with good intentions, but we need to think of the bigger picture. People who are Muslim or Jewish or have no religious beliefs come here for treatment,” she said.
Well sorry, Ms. Agnew, but I am offended. As long as Mr. Cloyes is respectful of those who are not raised in the Santa tradition—and let’s remember that many atheists, Jews and Muslims celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday—I don’t see what the problem is. If all he does is come to the bedside of the children who celebrate Christmas, make them smile and maybe hear what they want for Christmas, then how exactly does his presence for the children who follow the Santa tradition harm the ones who don’t? And if he is handing out any toys, then all you have to do is make sure he is willing to hand it out to children who don’t follow the tradition, too. He can say to them: “I know you don’t believe, but I didn’t want you to be deprived because you don’t.” That seems like the Christian thing to do.
And of course the hospital should be equally respectful of all traditions, within reason. I presume that during Yom Kippur or Ramadan that there are appropriate spiritual services available as appropriate.
The fact is that for children that follow this tradition, Mr. Cloyes’ work is almost certainly positively good for them. Besides the reality that psychology influences health so that if they are happy their health will benefit, it’s also worth noting that Santa Claus is a very effective method of keeping children well-behaved. A long time ago when I worked on the floor at Target, for instance, around November and December, I would go up to kids who were misbehaving and say something like this: “Hey, do you see those black domes on the ceiling? Each of them has a camera. Now I can’t tell you who is watching, but he is making a list and checking it twice…”
And if the kid celebrated Christmas, their eyes would go wide and they would usually say, “Santa?!” and I would finish by saying, “so be extra good when you are in Target.” And about 99% of the time if the kid celebrated Christmas the child became suddenly much more manageable (and the parents were extremely grateful). Seriously, they would get real quiet.
And I said it that way, so that it would leave me an out. If the parents said suddenly, “we’re Jewish” or something like that, I would jokingly say something like, “oh, well, that’s actually the FBI watching—it’s really kind of creepy” and they would laugh. Not a single person actually got offended by this, and even if the child didn’t believe in Santa, the mere fact that I distracted them usually meant they forgot what they were acting out about.
The point is Mr. Cloyes and/or the parents could probably convince these sick children to protest a little less during treatment, and generally to behave better if Santa pays them a visit, another benefit that can be reaped from the belief in Santa Claus. Yeah, it would be nice if we could find an equivalent for all children, but I don’t think there is one that applies in all circumstances, and we should not deny the majority of children this benefit just because some have chosen holiday traditions that don’t allow for it. There is nothing wrong with a hospital using every tool at its disposal to promote the health of its patients, even if it isn’t available for every patient.
Anyway, if you are inclined to protest this sort of thing, let me gently suggest a method. Send them proper Christmas stockings… filled with coal.
Exit question: Okay, so you are playing Santa and sit down with a sick kid and ask what they want for Christmas, and they say, “I want my cancer cured.” What do you say to that? Anyone have a good answer to that? Sorry to bum you out, but I couldn’t get the question out of my head.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]