What interests me most about Miracle on 34th Street is the way it juxtaposes belief in Santa Claus against common sense and practical thinking while expounding upon the Santa Claus archetype.
Over the past six months, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with Jungian archetypes, to the point that I’ve even read books about them. (Usually, my obsessions begin and end on YouTube.) I brought some of my new-found existential ammunition to Santa as I watched the show.
Miracle makes a strong case for the importance of the myth of Santa even though the character of Kris Kringle is presented, for the most part, as one-dimensional. Yet the figure of Santa Claus is one of the most bizarre conglomerations of opposing traditions imaginable. St. Nicolas, a patriarch of the early Christian church, hailed from modern day Turkey, and is believed to have lived during the fourth century. The only records of his existence were written hundreds of years after his death. He was known for giving gifts and for converting the followers of Artemis, an ancient Greek fertility goddess with dozens of breasts. He is the patron saint of children.
The European shamanic tradition, which was focused near the North Pole from Siberia to Scandinavia, is believed to have given Santa Claus his polar home. The indigenous people of this region were/are reindeer herders.
An important element of their shamanic practice involved the red and white Amanita muscaria mushroom. When dried, these become “magic mushrooms." One method of drying mushrooms was to put them in socks hanging by the fire. The shaman would collect the mushrooms and go from house to house, distributing his “gifts” in stockings hung by the fire. When you start to think about it, Santa Claus and flying reindeer do have a psychedelic quality.
Hey Santa, what’s in the pipe?
There is also the German figure of Krampus, who represents the shadow. How much more Jungian can you get than having a shadow figure of Santa Claus?
More recent versions of Santa Claus lean toward the Zeus archetype, as Santa has gained powers which border on omniscience and omnipresence. However, the meta-archetype for Santa is the good father.
In Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle’s primary function is to help those who interact with him to voice what it is they want the most. This is the foundational quality of the good father. The benevolent father is responsible for helping us find and develop our voice. There is power in having a voice.
How far back does this go? To the very beginning. God, the father, speaks the world into existence. If we don’t have speech. If we don’t have language, we don’t have a world.
Kris Kringle’s goal in Miracle on 34th Street is to get people to believe in him because he is troubled by “the way things are going”. If we remove the mantle of Santa, Kris is trying to get us to believe in the idea of the good father.
That is something I have no problem believing in.
San Diego Musical Theatre presents Miracle on 34th Street at The Horton Grand Theatre through December 23rd.