little me, still a santa believer!

On the seventh day of Christmas, my childhood gave to me

A deep-seated ambivalence about Santa Claus.


G

ather ‘round the couch, friends, while I tell a tale of Christmas past.

It was Christmas Eve. I was nestled all snug in my bed, a big-eyed bug of six or so, when something roused me from my holiday slumber. (In hindsight, probably my parents dragging stuff under the tree, but this story is not about reality but rather the precious perception thereof.)

What was that noise? Could it be jolly old St. Nick, arriving at last to dispense gifts and gobble his snack before departing?

But wait. Now I was awake and Santa’s publicity machine had always been quite clear on the importance of children not sneaking a peek at him while he was about his business. And the song (Not getting enough of it on elevators and various other public spaces? Here it is again!) had been equally direct: he knew when I was sleeping and when I was awake. What if, by simply being awake, I was in breach of Christmas holiday etiquette to such an extent that there would be no presents for me? So I decided that maybe Santa would only know if I was awake if I behaved like a conscious person. And so, for what felt like hours – though it was probably only minutes – I lay awake, breathing shallowly, eyes darting back and forth, body stiff as a plank, while I waited for Santa to leave before discovering my deception.

There’s your context; Armchair Psychoanalysts, you may start your engines.

Over their combined Christmases, I can count on one hand the number of times that The Three made it into

the presence of a storefront Santa Claus. I have, somewhere in my possession, an honest-to-goodness Polaroid from Marcel’s first Christmas when Scott and I foisted him on a long-suffering Friend of Santa in the town square (no kidding around – it really was a town square) where we were living at the time. If I ever want to relive that first magical visit with Santa, all I have to do is pull out that picture and look at Marcel’s red eyes, tear-stained face and frantic expression. You can see why it’s not something I do very often — also, how this initial visit with the ubiquitous face of contemporary Christmas might have impacted my enthusiasm for continuing this ritual going forward.

And I have written just this week about my laziness. Personally, I have always felt there to be a lot of work involved in maintaining Santa Claus’ secret identity. There’s the hiding and the lying and the fabrications about how he manages to do what he does for everyone around the world in one night. Just thinking about it makes me tired. We don’t do lists or letters for Santa because I think that those sorts of personal expressions of childhood desire require an equally personal response of some sort. And just when am I going to get around to producing something like that when I am out buying your real presents, my darlings?

I find myself pleasantly surprised that I’ve managed to remain married for ten years. Commitment is not to be taken lightly as it is fraught with challenges and, I’m going to say it again, work. So while I have childhood memories (just as vivid as my sleepless Santa night at six) of the sense of wonder I felt when I tiptoed downstairs to spy our holiday haul packed around the tree and all of the implications that those gifts’ sudden arrival held, I have not been able to commit to the perpetuation of the Santa Claus story in all of its outsized glory. (And don’t even get me started on the new-fangled, Elf-on-the-Shelf thing; friends and fellow parents, do none of you sleep?)

The Three will put out a plate of cookies for Santa and a letter of heartfelt, Santa gratitude will be left faithfully on that empty plate to be read in the morning. But that will pretty much be the extent of it.

Come and get your snack, Santa. We will leave it within reach of the fireplace so you can just grab it on your way out. I know you have, like, 7 billion other homes to hit, so we don’t want to keep you. Merry Christmas, you chubby-cheeked mischief-maker!