The most wonderful crime of the year?

Christmas comes but once a year and with it, holiday specials packed with memorable characters, catchy jingles and …. breaking the law?

The TV classics starring Santa, Frosty and the Grinch also feature a smorgasbord of crimes, including  attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, grand larceny, possession of stolen property,  theft of services, animal abuse, criminal impersonation and mail theft.

So in the spirit of the season in a year many wish to forget, Law Beat lightheartedly looked at the legal boundaries some characters in these beloved classics, frankly, chose to ignore.

“A lot of these Christmas specials made for kids featuring animated toys are filled with litigable acts,”  said Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. “Santa has clearly not read the part in the HR booklet of Santa’s workshop.”

He’s not kidding. Even Santa Claus, depending on the special, could be more naughty than nice. Just look at the 1964 Rankin Bass special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” in which a not-so-jolly Santa encouraged bullying, mocked elves after they sang a song adoring him and told Rudolph’s dad that his son has no place on the sleigh team because of his nose.

Santa was a walking advertisement for a civil suit — and his legal exposure did not end there.


The 1970 Rankin Bass classic, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” implicated Saint Nick in burglary, bribery and child endangerment. A younger Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney) snuck into homes to illegally deliver toys to kids in the municipality of Sombertown, which was under the tyrannical rule of strongman Burgermeister Meisterburger, who outlawed toys .

Santa, already facing sure charges of burglary and possession of contraband, tried to bribe the Burgermeister with a yo-yo. Santa and friends illegally escaped from jail. And most disturbingly, Santa offered young children a quid pro quo requiring they sit on his lap and kiss him in exchange for his toys  (“If you sit on my lap today, A kiss a toy is the price you’ll pay,” Santa sang. “When you tell what you wish for –in a whisper. Be prepared to pay….When you sit on my left knee Don’t be stingy. Be prepared to pay.”)

The narrator of the special, S.D. Kluger (Fred Astaire), broke federal law when he opened mail that children had sent Santa. A man known as Winter Warlock, described as a strange hermit who lived in the woods, ordered two underlings (trees) to kidnap Santa and Santa’s penguin pal, Topper. The warlock exclaimed: “I have you, and you’ll never get away!” Facing his demise, a quick-thinking Santa turned to bribery again, handing the warlock a “choo-choo train” as a Christmas gift. The act melted the warlock’s heart and transformed the formerly despicable character into a pussy cat in about 25 seconds.

At the end of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” Santa, his wife  Jessica and their entourage relocated to the North Pole – still wanted by authorities in Sombertown.

Longtime Albany attorney Lee Kindlon came prepared with a defense.

“So the first thing I’d do for Santa is fight extradition from the North Pole,” Kindlon said. “Do we even have a treaty that would allow the transfer of a fugitive from justice?”

Kindlon continued: “If they actually get the case before a jury, I’d dress my client up in his Santa suit and work on two things: first, their best witness is a child who may be too young to put under oath and second, after a weak showing of proof, what juror is going to want to convict Santa Claus?  That’s one giant piece of coal in your stocking next year.”

Albany defense attorney Cheryl Coleman, who retired last year after more than three decades in law, said: “The easiest defense would be for Santa charged with burglary. Clearly he doesn’t enter ‘with the intent to commit a crime therein,’ so no burglary. Really not even criminal trespass since he clearly has implied permission to enter.”

In the 1966 Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the Grinch blatantly committted burglary, possession of stolen property and animal abuse of his dog, Max, who he forced to play a deer.

In New York, second-degree burglary is when a person “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.” Let’s assume Whoville has a similar law. The Grinch knowingly entered every home in Whoville with absolute intent to clean them out. And did so. The Grinch also traumatized children as young as 2 years old (“Cindy Lou Who”), pilfering their candy canes as they slept. Meanwhile, we know the Grinch was at least 53 (“ie, “Why, for 53 years I’ve put up with it now. ! I must stop this Christmas from coming!…But how?””)

The Grinch experienced a change of heart, quite literally. He ate dinner with his (highly forgiving) victims. The Grinch, however, still could face serious time.

“The Grinch is a more complicated defense,” Coleman told Law Beat.  “Clearly he has committed numerous Burglary 2nds, along with larcenies. “

Even more nefarious crimes lurk in the 1969 classic, “Frosty the Snowman” in which a self-proclaimed evil magician, Professor Hinkle, stalked Frosty and a child onto a train (that none of them pay to ride). In an attempt to murder the friendly snowman via melting, Hinkle slammed the door to the greenhouse. Santa, of course, saved the day (and Frosty) despite dropping her off on a snowy roof, potentially hurting Santa’s credibility on the witness stand.

Kindlon, once again, had a defense for Hinkle on the ready.

“This is a justification case,” Kindlon told Law Beat.  “The law says that you can act to defend someone else against a perceived harm, even if your belief is mistaken.  He would have to testify that he saw Frosty carry a young child into a greenhouse, he thought she was going to be hurt and so he acted to defend her.”

Thompson, the expert from Syracuse University, said the actions of villains such as Hinkle were considered wrong at the time the specials were made and still would be today. Protagonists such as Santa were able to misbehave and get away with it due to a God-like immunity in the public’s perception.

“One has to assume Santa is above the law,” Thompson said, “or he’d never get passed the second house.”