Friends, Family, and Functional Chaos
Now that the wedding is over, it is time to turn my attention to the crazy, wonderful, magical hell that is the holiday season.
When you think of Santa Claus, what comes first to mind? A jolly elf who spreads good cheer around the world or a sneaky home invader who spies on children? For me, it is a combination of both. I’m torn on this iconic character. Like religion and politics, the topic of Santa can be divisive among people, especially young parents. He is sacred and almost holy. Don’t dare talk ill of him. You are committing the ultimate sin against humanity and childhood. Santa is magic. Santa is innocence. Santa is fairy dust and Disney World and secret wishes all rolled into one big, red-clad, gray bearded old man.
Parents stand in line at the mall for hours just to plop their screaming child on the lap of a oddly clad stranger. Questions are asked. Pictures are taken. Money is exchanged. A forced memory has been etched.
These days, Santa is more than the bearer of gifts. He has been commandeered to curb unruly behavior in trusting children. “Eat your vegetables or Santa won’t visit on Christmas Eve.” “Clean up your room or Santa won’t bring your new Barbie.” “Stop fighting with your brother or Santa will leave coal in your stocking.” Some children are so threatened with Santa’s inescapable powers they keep believing far beyond when it is realistic in fear of (or is it greed?) waking up to nothing under the tree on Christmas morning.
When my boys were little I didn’t hold Santa over their heads. I told them he brought the presents, but I tried not to use him as leverage for good behavior. Santa didn’t need to nose in on my discipline program. My oldest son told me last night, though, that his dad did when they were up with him. He said if they were fighting or not behaving, their dad would “call” Santa and ask him to speak to the boys. Chris later found out "Santa" was an old family friend. Cute, I admit, but, wow. How many times did he have to pretend to be Santa just so the boys would settle down? So, thanks, Barry, for your help in reigning in my children’s errant conduct on their dad’s weekends.
One December back when the boys were five and eight years old, they cornered me. They asked in their most sincere voices if I was Santa. I gulped. Panic ran through me. Could I steal this story from them? What about their childhood? I was ready to say something wonderfully poetic about Christmas magic when they asked me again, and told me not to lie. They recognized my handwriting on the packages, looked at me with their big, sweet, cloying eyes and asked, “Mom, are you Santa?” I sighed and said yes. They didn’t seem surprised. Both of them later told me they knew all along; they just wanted validation. I then made them promise not to tell their friends or cousins. This was our secret. Santa was in our hearts, but I bought the gifts. Chris just recently confessed he quickly spilled to his friends and his cousins. Well, that worked out. I told him he’s not too old to be grounded.
So, am I a big Santa cynic? Do I want to rain on this well-coordinated and highly commercial Christmas parade? No and no. I love Santa. My problem with Santa is that he is misused and misunderstood. Poor Santa. He was never meant to be depicted by that musty and slightly sleazy old man who kicked Ralphie in the face in A Christmas Story, or the enforcer who threatens a little boy with no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if he doesn’t eat his peas.
What, then, is Santa Claus? Santa, just as newsman Francis P. Church wrote to Virginia O’Hanlon back in 1897, “exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence...No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
All of us need Santa Claus these days. We want to believe, not in greed or hate or evil, but in the hope of better days. Santa is that perfect song with beautiful lyrics. He is the first flower in spring and a warm cup of cocoa. Santa is the laughter of a child. He is holding hands, a shy smile, and a favorite book. He is fresh snow. He is the whisper of a wish. Santa Claus is home. He is the goodness in the hearts of all men and women. That is the Santa I believe in. What about you?
(But don’t get me started on that narc Elf on the Shelf. That little dude is creepy.)