Santa Claus has been a consistent presence on The Simpsons from the very first episode, and not strictly contained within the holidays. Homer wanted to be him. Abe and Bart wanted to kill him. The family dog is named after him, and Mr. Burns routinely releases the hounds on him. The very image of Santa once saved Homer’s life. The town of Springfield brought a class action suit against him, even if they do trust him enough to hawk TV savings at Sprawl-Mart or buy Dancing Santas off YouTube. Here are the many ways in which Santa Claus has impacted The Simpsons.
Santa doesn’t get special treatment in the first episode of season 1, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” which was titled onscreen as “The Simpsons Christmas Special.” The episode premiered on Dec. 17, 1989, when the world still treated Father Christmas with respectful kid’s gloves. “There’s only one fat guy that brings us presents and his name ain’t Santa,” says Bart, who never wears mittens, not even in winter. Little did he know, but his father would live up to that bit of foreshadowing in ways no one, except for writer Mimi Pond, could have seen coming.
Homer puts on the fake beard, red suit and offers his lap as a mall Santa. It’s a rough road, he has to go through intensive training. He memorizes the reindeers’ names, though Donner and Blitzen merge to form Donna Dixon. He practices his ho-ho-hos. He even promises to like children “all the time, even when they’re nuts.” He does it all because Marge had to spend all the money in the Christmas jar to remove a truly radical tattoo from the not-of-legal-age arm of Bart, who then proceeds to bust his old man’s nuts by pulling off his fake beard.
Homer is not the only character to pull mall Santa duty on The Simpsons. He gets the idea from Barney, who recommends the gig as easy money. In season 18 episode “Kill Gil, Volumes I & II,” Gil Gunderson takes the job as the Costington’s department store Santa. He gets fired for making sure Lisa got a chance at a sold-out Malibu Stacy Pony Beach Party Set. Homer makes a far larger splash in town when he puts on the Santa suit for Costington’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He passes it over to Mr. Burns who happily makes the rounds, reaching into his bag of presents and pulling out fish guts which he throws to the crowd. Merry Everyone.
Sideshow Bob slips his oversized feet through the padded pants in “Bobby, It’s Cold Outside.” Written by Jeff Westbrook and John Frink, season 31’s tenth episode sets Robert Underdunk Terwilliger Jr., Ph.D., up to be the holiday villain because more merchandise is being stolen at the mall than being wrapped up to go. But, having ditched his solitary lightkeeper’s job to sit down for the little guy and speak truth to power when it plops in his lap, Sideshow Bob finds Christmas spirit at the bottom of his bag of toys. Not that that pardons him from the mall crimes.
On the season 3 episode “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love,” Channel 6 News Anchor Kent Brockman breaks the news to Springfield that, while the idea of jolly fat men like Dom DeLuise or Alfred Hitchcock is a source of joy to the world, the reality is far less bright. A real Santa Claus would be on his deathbed, hospitalized for gallstones, hypertension, impotence and diabetes, he reports. Brockman also once pronounced Santa Claus dead, or at least that he might as well be, because Homer was doing a better job than the North Pole resident. Rachel Maddow later puts down Brockman for reporting Santa Claus’ route across the world as news.
Santa’s not the best of bosses, though. At least not on The Simpsons. People with chimneys take the toys for granted without thinking of the poor elves toiling in the sweatshop known as Santa’s Workshop. Homer, Barney, Moe and Bart are saved from enraged reindeer at Springfield’s Santa’s Village by guest star John Waters. No, it’s not a Christmas miracle, “Ultrasuede is a miracle.” It is a Japanese robot Santa Claus. The Pink Flamingos and Hairspray director knew it would be effective because of the harsh work ethic which precedes Claus’s reputation. “I figured reindeer would naturally be afraid of their cruel master Santa Claus. I mean, wouldn’t you be,” Waters asks.
Bart gets a first-hand view of the workshop in “The Fight Before Christmas,” from season 22. It’s only a dream sequence but the men in the Simpson family always seem to live out their dreams. Bart only took the job to kill Santa for not bringing him a dirt bike three Christmases ago. He’d previously fantasized about killing Santa in “The Front” from the fourth season. Bart points a machine gun at Santa Claus, tells him to hit the ground and hijacks his sleigh. Krusty the Clown plays Santa in the dream sequence from “The Fight Before Christmas” (Krusty also got to play Santa in “Behind the Laughter” from season 11), and kvetches about the diminishing returns of presents for cookies. It’s just not a sustainable business model. Bart lets Santa off the hook, and Santa throws a party in honor of how stupid kids can be.
While we don’t exactly know the full story, the entire town appears to get wind of the flamboozling, one-night-a-year-working, unlicensed parcel delivery man in “New Kid on the Block” from season 4. As Homer is in court fighting the most flagrant case of false advertising “since The NeverEnding Story,” the attorney for his opponent tries to pull a dramatic courtroom reveal. “Your Honor, I’d like to show the court just how much shrimp Mr. Simpson ate,” the lawyer says as aides shoulder sacks of material to be entered into evidence. As the boys bring in the “Eighteen thousand letters, all addressed to Santa Claus,” we learn it is a missed delivery. “You want the People of Springfield versus Kris Kringle. That’s next door,” we hear. We never get a follow-up.
But Abe does.
Abraham Simpson is not known for his follow-through. But he is infamous for his interminable tales of woe and confusion. One of those confusions has to do with the time Abe was stranded with Monty Burns on a deserted island as World War II was coming to an end. The way Abe tells it, Santa was flying over the island on Christmas Eve when Burns shot down his sleigh thinking it was German issue. After learning who it is, they help Santa repair his sleigh. They round up all the reindeer but Rudolph and Prancer. While Abe is herding in Prancer, Burns bashes Santa on the head with a coconut, and takes off in the sleigh with all the presents. Abe mounts Prancer to catch up with the airborne Burns, throttles him with a tricycle, and brings the leigh in for a safe landing. A grateful Santa promises to come back for the stranded soldiers when he’s done delivering presents.
Santa never came back. He wanted to, but kept putting it off until, well, it just got embarrassing. He does continue delivering presents to Grampa, including the lucky watch his brother was wearing when his plane went down in World War II. All is forgiven when Santa tells Abe his brother survived the air attack, and is happily living with his 50 wives in Tahiti, where his plane went down. Abe forgave him enough to play Santa in his telling of the origins of Christmas traditions. Whether Santa Claus forgave Abe for that we don’t know
We do know Santa Claus is one of the few people who read the book “The Answer.” We also know he’s no match for an armed Gnome in Your Home, even with the help of Jack Frost, The Abominable Snowman and Wayne Gretzky. Santa Claus is always welcome on The Simpsons, even if the chimneys on Evergreen Terrace are death traps.