Claus for Reflection

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I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped believing in Santa Claus (SPOILER ALERT: there is no Santa Claus), but I do remember that I didn’t feel like my parents had lied to me. Even though they had. Boy, howdy, had they. And what a lie! Throughout the first several years of my life, my parents consistently perpetrated an elaborate fiction about an imaginary figure who brought gifts on Christmas Eve, and they never once broke character or let on that they knew it was not true. That is amazing commitment.

Their fraud was, of course, enabled by the participation of every other adult I knew, and indeed by the entire Christmas industrial complex. Being a grown-up apparently means joining a massive conspiracy to spread this lie among children, at all costs. Some people are better at lying than others, but when it comes to Santa Claus, everyone’s a natural. People who have never uttered a falsehood in their lives can, in the presence of children, convincingly expound on Santa’s habits, policies, and practices as if he were their own father.

One year Santa brought us a swing set. We were told to go look in the backyard, and there it was, assembled and ready for swingin’. For some reason it was this gift that made me wonder about the whole Santa thing. How would he fit a swing set in his sack? (The fact that his sack contained millions of other gifts of various sizes did not concern me.) I eventually came to the conclusion that he must have tied the swing set to the back of his sleigh and flown around with it trailing behind him like a kite.

(It had actually been my dad and one of my uncles who’d assembled the swing set, working quietly and in the dark. Having now assembled a few things myself, loudly and in daylight, I’m even more in awe that they were able to let Santa Claus take the credit for it.)

As a kid, I was lucky to have all four grandparents alive and living nearby, so we’d see both sets on Christmas. At my paternal grandparents’ house, we even had stockings, which we’d tear into when we arrived mid-afternoon. I don’t recall whether we were meant to believe that these had been filled by Santa, like our stockings at home, or whether the cover story was that Grandma had done it on Santa’s behalf. It must have been the latter. I like to think that as a budding journalist, I’d have been skeptical of any claims that Santa had filled TWO stockings per child, one at home and one at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Why would he? How would he even know he was supposed to? Santa’s got enough on his plate as it is. He would visit my grandparents’ house and fill the stockings of the people who lived there, of course: Grandma, Grandpa, and my two spinster aunts. But there was no reason to believe he would include extra loot for people who had perfectly good stockings at their own houses.

Certainly there is no mention of any such special favors in the canonical Santa-related works. You hang your stocking — singular — by the chimney with care, and that’s it. Modern interpretation has expanded this doctrine to allow for alternative stocking placement in households where a chimney is not present, but that’s the only major exception of which I am aware. And even that one is not without controversy. Many strict orthodox families either refuse to live in homes without chimneys, or else construct artificial ones in December in order to observe the stocking ritual.

But if those bonus stockings were my grandmother’s work, that raises other difficult theological questions. Can a person just decide, on her own, to act as proxy for Santa, without authorization from the man himself (or at least from his organization)? It seems to me that putting gifts in a Christmas stocking without having been duly deputized by Santa Claus would be against the law, just as it is illegal for someone who isn’t an employee of the U.S. Postal Service to put things in people’s mailboxes. The same would have to apply to the “Santas” you’d see at shopping malls and on street corners. We knew none of those were the real Santa; they were just his helpers, acting in his name. But they must have been legit. Surely Santa would be vigilant about cracking down on unauthorized mall Santas, lest one of them misrepresent him and ruin his reputation. Surely it is just as unlawful to impersonate Santa Claus as it is to impersonate a police officer.

But on the other hand, if Grandma HAD received dispensation from Santa to act on his behalf with regard to our stockings, how had she gotten it? Were there forms to fill out? Did she have to run a proposed list of stocking stuffers past the jolly old elf for approval, or did he give her free rein? How had she gotten a hold of him in the first place? This was a perplexing matter for me as a child. Parents always claimed to have contact information for Santa, and would threaten to inform him if your behavior was unacceptable. (In December, anyway. I don’t remember anyone ever saying, “Be good or I’ll tell Santa!” when it was summer.) But how did they know? He wasn’t in the phone book: I checked. All the adults seemed to be on speaking terms with Santa, whereas none of the children were, so I assumed Santa’s phone number was something you learned once you became a grown-up, probably at the same orientation meeting where they tell you how to make babies.

It has since come to my attention that grandmothers are automatically authorized to act in Santa’s behalf simply by virtue of being grandmothers. Grandfathers are tentatively authorized but must be approved case by case — unless they were approved to be honorary Santas at some point in the past, in which case they are, well, grandfathered in. I’ll stop now. Merry Christmas.

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It's a COOKBOOK!This edition of Snide Remarks was sponsored by the Northshore Democratic Women’s Club’s Cookbook for the Hungry, which adds a dose of humor and politics to the delicious recipes. All profits go to feed hungry people in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, so it’s a good cause even if you don’t like the food or the jokes. Sponsor had no editorial control over this column, and the author alone is responsible for its content.