What happened when I was busy making other plans.

The Santa Chronicles


The aspirational “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is upon us and I, lame Jew of little knowledge, once again find myself in regular talks with The Big Guy in the Red Suit, aka Santa.

It’s a curious situation, one I fell into on happenstance with little preparation or knowledge. Growing up with my mom and brother, ours was a Hanukkah-only home, where we lit candles when my mom remembered (typically five or six of the nights). The gift-giving went like this: The first night you received a nice present, the next night you got a book or album, the rest of the nights you got . . . socks. Needless to say, I always had Christmas envy, and not-so-secretly longed to be Catholic, because then I could go to CCD with my friends on Wednesdays, and I loved singing in Latin and always found the stained glass/candle combination to be pretty in a mysterious kind of way.

My mother worried about my impending conversion so much that I was forbidden to attend Midnight Mass until my senior year of high school. I’m not sure why she thought the Catholic Church would be interested in adding me to their roster, but when I was 17 she relented, my era of impressionability seemingly expired. She no longer was concerned that I would succumb to the pressure of Father Rob at St. John’s, the church down the block where many of my friends attended, in whose rectory I smoked my first cigarette at age 12.

Fast forward to 2003. Now 33, I became mom to a child who would celebrate Christmas and yes, believe in Santa Claus. My relationship with Santa–though relatively short-lived–is an intense one. You see, I have been bestowed with the mystical powers of a telepathic connection to SC, even in December, his busiest month. I know not to overuse this power, as he has a lot of lists to read right now, and is overseeing multiple elf-filled production lines to check them all off. Santa’s got a hard deadline, I’m well aware. So I keep it brief, these conversations.

It does come in handy, being able to talk directly to The Man and hearing his quick responses, always of the reassuring kind. You see, my Santa is a New Testament kind of guy. He forgives most kids their trespasses, as long as they’re good most of the time and they try really hard to be kind to others, even their almost-step-brothers, and don’t leave all of their doo-dads all over the house. The threat of coal-filled stockings is not one my Santa uses often. That’s saved only for truly evil children, and I know none of those. Truth be told, my Santa is a softy, a wise friend, a green lighter of wishes large and small. He offers constructive criticism but his overarching theme is being pleased with the progress. He’s an affable, big-picture guy.

While Santa came to me through marriage, after we split up, I was left in the dubious position of winging it with the Santa rules. Kind of like when you get a surprise essay test and try to psychobabble your way through it, not realizing that the more you write, the larger the hole you dig for yourself. This is all fine and good until your child reaches a certain age where they start to compare notes. Or when you end up in a blended family where your partner has more definitive rules (and scoffs at your made-up ones).  Then you find out other protocols, such as:

  • The aforementioned almost-stepbrother who, once a year, receives a phone call from Santa. This led to a heated discussion on cell phone reception in the North Pole. [I suggested that Santa came down to the U.S. for that call, which he does occasionally for test runs and to map out his route. This explanation was met with befuddlement (the boy) and affirmation (the girl).]
  • The letter from Santa, all in cursive, that E’s friend received (who complained it was too long. Obviously not my child.)
  • In my ex’s family, under “From” on the adhesive tags, it would read, “Santa, Mom and Dad.” Except for the big presents–those would just be from “Mom and Dad.” They didn’t want the Big Guy to get sole credit for any of it.
  • In my fiance’s family, however, most of the gifts are from Santa alone; only one or two of the big ones are from us, with no Santa involvement whatsoever. We continue to negotiate our way around this sticking point.
  • In fact, I’ve only uncovered one “universal” rule in all of this Santa-lore: Always leave the cookies out for him–and make sure he takes at least one bite, because there’s no better proof that The Big Guy was there.

Now that my daughter is almost nine, though, she may be onto some of my tricks. When she noticed some Amazon packages delivered to our door, she was quick to accept my lame explanation that some things are just too heavy for SC’s sleigh, what with all of the other presents and Donner having back issues lately. So he has them delivered. She also suggested we get wrapping paper, under the guise that since the elves are working 24/7 now, sometimes he asks me to finish the job. Seems my early fear–that she would one day be traumatized and angered by all of this mythology and deception–is being proven unwarranted. If she knows, she’s not letting on, because the payoff of believing–or seeming to believe–is just too good.

This would all be OK except for one complication: K, her 10-year-old almost-stepbrother who lives with us half the week, is a true believer. So Santa–with all of our conflicting protocols–remains a key part of Christmas. At least for now.

Before all that, though, comes Hanukkah. Today I will resurrect the menorah from the basement and vow to light the candles at least 60 percent of the nights, as I was taught long ago. E likes Hanukkah, and she likes socks, too. On some level, she knows she has it good, especially this time of year. Her only complaint came last week, upon exiting the school bus: “Mommy,” she implored, in that tone of half-annoyance that eight-year-old girls seem to master, “Why don’t we celebrate Kwanzaa?”

Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Happy Kwanzaa. And a Happy and Healthy 2012.

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5 responses

  1. Karen, for a self-described lame Jew, you handle Santa well. I have a suggestion for you on all of the rule-conflicts and gaps you’re experiencing. Our neighbors always told their girls, “Santa comes to those who believe.” Very simple, and from experience, I know it’s very effective. And when our son used to tell us of someone else’s differing rules, we’d just point out that that was what they believed.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to you too. (If you get ambitious, why not tackle the myriad spellings of Hanukkah in your next columbn . . . ?!)

    December 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    • Thanks, Geoff! I’ll remember that line, that’s a good one.

      December 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm

  2. Christy

    I smiled and giggled the whole way through. I’m making this stuff up as I go, despite having had the Santa upbringing. Our Santa is a bit tougher on the rules, at least between Thanksgiving and Christmas — the time of year when the threat of coal is most plausible. My sister in-law gave us an Elf on the Shelf a few years back and I didn’t think I’d use it, but it our kid seems to like the daily visits. However even at 4 1/2, she’s starting to question that little guy and all the magic I attribute to him. Probably because half the time I forget to relocate the little bugger.

    One thing I will tell you is that the day I realized there was no such thing as Santa was not a tragic one, and I agreed to keep my kid brother in the dark. Threatening to let that secret out was something I tortured my mom with for years.

    Oh and yes, we had a coal-bearing Santa at our house (you do remember my dad, right).

    December 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    • Thanks, Christy! And yes, how could I ever forget your dad? When I think of going to your house, he’s right up there with your mom’s ziti and all the photos in your room and, of course, your little bro (what a good big sister, not spoiling it)!

      December 19, 2011 at 9:14 pm

  3. Fran Johnston

    Karen, I enjoyed this musing on the Big Guy in the Suit. We still have believers in our house, due in part to the lengths my partner’s family goes to keep the magic alive. Their parents orchestrated older cousins to walk on the roof ringing sleigh bells at least on critical year. That set disbelieving back a few solid years. I like the idea of some magic being kept alive. So Santa is my favorite after the crazy magical thinking of Halloween…. Here is a suggestion for your next SC inspired blog — holiday lights! Happy Holidays, All of them, To You and E!

    Fran

    December 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

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