Bookmarks: Santa Claus banned in space
A short story spinoff of “Ender’s Game,” “A War of Gifts” is a unique look at holiday gift-giving in an isolated environment where religious observance has been banned. I felt like it was an appropriate book to read in the shadow of Black Friday and Thanksgiving, and in the wake of the Christmas season.
“A War of Gifts” focuses on two boys in Battle School (a space station in Earth’s orbit that trains children to become soldiers): Zeck, a Christian fundamentalist and a Dutch boy named Dink.
Dink notices when another Dutch boy leaves his shoes pointed out from under his bunk. Dink recognizes this surreptitious act as an observance of Sinterklaas Day, where Dutch children leave their shoes out for Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) to fill with candy.
Dink can’t exactly get candy in space, so he writes a poem instead. Zeck discovers the poem and through research, realizes that the two Dutch boys have engaged in a banned observance, and immediately brings it to the attention of the authorities.
Because of Zeck’s actions, what was a quiet exchange escalates into a religious observance conflict.
“A War of Gifts” is unique. It’s a short story that encompasses multiple points of view effortlessly, puts overlooked human behaviors, both good and bad, in the spotlight. It simultaneously equates humans to both pack-minded primates and empathy-driven beings when they recognize the buried pain in one another.
The book also has messages perfect for the holiday season. First, regardless of religious tradition, it’s the communal observance that matters more than the “things” involved. Second, an open heart never goes out of season. ‘Tis the season for “good will toward men,” not “good will toward my trusty can of mace for Black Friday crowds.”
Holiday observances are about human connection, the people you call family and having an open heart.
It’s a reminder of what holidays mean to different religions and that no one observance is all that different from another.
The story’s inspiration is the same: a celebration that brings a group of people together.