I get a lot of letters. Most of them begin, “Dear Mr. Snyder: We would like to send you several large piles of money, Mr. Snyder, because we are absolute loons. So, Mr. Snyder, just peel off the little tiny stickers that you have probably accidentally thrown away because you, Mr. Snyder, are a complete moron, and mail them to us, and we will will send you, Mr. Snyder, ten million billion hillion jillion Milli Vanillion dollars right to your home in Lake Elsinor, California.”
I assume this is because I did something to get my name on a mailing list, such as joining a record club, or being born. It was probably the record club, because I am almost certain that my name was spelled correctly on my birth certificate.
But the point of this column is not to talk about mail. No, wait. Yes it is. But not junk mail. Good mail. Like the letter I got recently…
“Dear Eric,” it began, “I have been reading your work since the dawning of time, and I trust you, both as a journalist and as a human being. So here is my question: Where did Zsa Zsa get all her money? I mean, it’s not like she has a job or anything.
“No, wait. That is not my question. My question is: Is there a Santa Claus?
“Your fan, Virginia, age 9.”
I was deeply touched by the frankness and openness of this obviously intelligent young person, and, since I had nothing else to write about this week, I thought I would answer her letter here in the column.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Only he’s not an actual person that you can see or touch or make obscene gestures at when he cuts you off on the freeway. He is more like a symbol — a representation of the Christmas spirit.
Remember when you were a small child and your mother would drag you to see Santa at the local mall (“local” meaning “in Riverside County somewhere”), even though you hated him because he looked like a big, fat candy cane and always smelled of stale beer? And remember how you would always cry and wet your pants when she sat you on his lap? Do you think that if Santa Claus were a real person, he would have time to go to the mall and have little brats urinate on him, particularly during the Christmas season, when he would undoubtedly be at his busiest? Of course not. Don’t be an idiot. That obviously was not the real Santa Claus because Santa Claus, as I said, is just an image.
You know how, starting December 1, every television station in the country shows “It’s A Wonderful Life” fifty times, and how every station advertises the heck out of it, as though they had the exclusive broadcasting rights to it and as if it were possible to turn on the TV at any time of the day or night and not see “It’s A Wonderful Life” somewhere? And you know how your mother always feels compelled to watch it every single time it is on? All that is Santa Claus.
You know how your mother always takes you Christmas shopping to Kmart, or a place of equivalent class, and how you drive around the parking lot for hours and hours searching for a parking space closer than the McDonald’s four blocks down the street, since you know that you’ll be buying approximately four thousand dollars worth of stuff and if you tried to carry it that far, your mother would probably lapse into a coma and you would probably just regress to the fetal stage, and you finally give up and sneak into a handicapped zone? That is Santa Claus.
You know how your brothers and sisters always get up on Christmas morning at an hour that is only technically considered morning and tear into their loot and get into fights over who gets to play with what because of course no one wants to play with his own stuff, and how everything gets broken even before your parents have even gotten out of bed? That is Santa Claus, too.
So you see, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus. Everything associated with Christmas — Christmas cards, family get-togethers, large mobs of Christmas carolers singing ridiculous songs, each person in a different key — all of these things are Santa Claus.
I would not be surprised, therefore, if you no longer want to leave out a plate of milk and cookies for him. He probably would not eat them unless they were cholesterol-free anyway.
The opening paragraph was pretty much stolen from Dave Barry, just so you know.
I was not intending to write a Christmas column at all, until a fellow reporter suggested I do something with the old "Yes, Virginia..." thing. I sat down at the computer and cranked this thing out in about 25 minutes.
Some people considered this to be my best work, because they thought it was full of social commentary and stuff. This is interesting, because I don't recall putting any in. For that matter, let's look at the column. What am I saying? That Christmas has become so crass and awful that we might as well not celebrate it? That Santa Claus is represented by all the commercialization and ridiculousness of the season, like some kind of big North Pole-dwelling monster? What, exactly, was my point? I'm asking you, because I have no idea. I was just being odd and mindlessly cynical, like usual. I absolutely did not intend ANY message in the column.
This column bears the distinction of being the first one I ever wrote that actually prompted someone to write a letter. The letter was hand-written very sloppily, with no return address on the envelope. Here it is, verbatim, with all punctuation, misspellings and underlinings intact:
Without a doubt you are a miserable son of a bicth bastered. Every adult knows what Xmas is all about. But what gives you the right to spoil it for children. You well know its been an old tradition for centuries. You should be fired from your position!!
A concerned citizen,
How wonderful that my very first angry letter should also be one of the funniest ones I've ever gotten. (It wasn't until "Titanic" that I got funnier letters.) The fact that he misspelled his two swear words makes it even funnier. Oh, and he signed it "Santa Claus"!! How precious! We laughed for days about this, and we never did learn who sent it. I'm glad he did, though. Merry Christmas to him, wherever he is.