The Santa State.

santa

How did I ever find this believable?

Early on I developed a real problem with Santa Claus. It’s wasn’t for any of the most obvious reasons. Yes, the song warned us that “He sees you when you’re sleeping,/He knows when you’re awake” and that’s disturbing but it never really bothered me. I figured he was one guy and in spite of being apparently immortal and able to thrive in one of the planet’s most hostile environments I didn’t think he could really keep tabs on all of us. I figured my odds of getting away with something while Santa wasn’t looking were pretty good, even though I also never believed he visited every single child in the world in a single night. Somehow very early on I was culturally aware enough to know that not every part of the world celebrated Christmas and that therefore Santa could skip large sections of the southern and eastern hemispheres. Even then I figured he had a huge number of kids to watch over–at least two or three times the number of kids in my school. I also realized he had proxies, that the mall Santas and the Santas standing on street corners and even most of the ones on television weren’t the real deal but were stand-ins, like the guy the other Stooges pretended was Shemp for a while after he died. I don’t remember when exactly I first concluded this, but it was before I outgrew my belief that Santa Claus was a real person who broke into people’s homes in the night but instead of stealing their TVs would leave presents and maybe eat some cookies before zipping off to the next house. There were other parts of the Santa story I also jettisoned while still believing in him which, in retrospect, I find kind of odd. The idea that he had a whole gang of elves who made the toys and other presents he brought was ludicrous, especially considering how much of the stuff had “Made in China” stamped on it. And yet I never wondered how he could afford to buy and give away all those toys for free because I continued to believe that a fat man in a red suit flew around in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer and entered peoples’ homes through their chimneys. I believed this in spite of the fact that our house didn’t have a chimney until I was fifteen when my parents had a fireplace built in the basement and I got a practical lesson in the principle that heat rises. Whenever they built a fire just enough heat would rise to shut off the furnace and as the heat continued to rise it would get cold so my room at the very top of the house would be freezing, but that’s another story. Anyway I figured Santa just came in through our front door or maybe a window. Maybe I continued to believe at least part of the Santa Claus story because about the only time of year I gave him any thought was December. That made the question, “Have you been a good boy all year?” more than a little disconcerting. Most of the time I couldn’t remember what I’d had for breakfast the day before, let alone what I’d done in June. And that question also clued me in that Santa wasn’t checking up on me every minute of every day throughout the year. If he had that kind of power he wouldn’t need to ask any more than he’d need to check his list twice, right?

Unless it was entrapment. Yeah, I’d tell him I was a good boy but I could just imagine the big guy saying, “Ho ho ho! So not only did you steal your friend Troy’s doughnut on March 13th but you’re a liar too! Kids like you save me from breaking the bank!”

And it was that fear of entrapment that I hated most because it always seemed like the holidays were a time when all the adults in my life developed shorter fuses. I understand now that for a lot of adults the holidays are a stressful time, not least because they have to deal with whining, demanding kids who think a fat man in a red suit can magically deliver piles of expensive toys. It seemed like it was a lot harder to be good the closer we got to Christmas. And on top of that it was too cold to go outside most of the time so we were cooped up inside the house which just made the problem worse. I can’t tell you how much I envied kids in Australia when I learned that Christmas for them falls right in the middle of the summer, and also that they had giant spiders that could kill you from six feet away, but that’s another story.

It just seemed like the whole being good thing was a very twisted test and looking back it’s a wonder I didn’t rebel against it, especially when I was told that naughty kids got switches and lumps of coal. Obviously the adult who told me that meant wooden switches—long thin strips used for scarring the butts of kids who didn’t behave—but I thought of light switches which actually sounded kind of cool. And so did lumps of coal. I’d never seen real lumps of coal and wouldn’t until I was fifteen when I got some and burned it in my room.

14 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I believed and loved every word of this post, Chris, but that’s another story.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m glad you believed every word but even if you didn’t the important thing is you loved it.

      Reply
  2. Gilly Maddison

    Damn – the video content is blocked in ‘my country’! That will be because I live in the UK where we don’t hold with bands like the Kinks who made lots of those dreadful ‘pop songs’ that made us all into terrible people who went to ‘discotheques’ and got drunk. Happy days.

    Anyway – never mind – at least your words were not blocked. However, I did find the article a little disturbing as you used the phrase ‘before I outgrew my belief that Santa was a real person…’ what do you mean? He is just as real as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth fairy and I think you need to apologise to the fat beardy man straight away.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      A Kinks video is blocked in the UK? Perhaps it’s because they made you terrible people or perhaps it’s revenge for Mr. Ray Davies’ decision to leave Britain in favor of New Orleans. If you haven’t guessed I’m a bit of a Kinks fan in the way that King Kong was a bit of an ape.
      And I definitely owe Santa an apology. Otherwise I might end up with coal and switches, although I still think those would be kind of a cool thing to get.
      In fact Santa just might leave me coal and switches for being good.

      Reply
  3. Library Heather

    I think I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was 3 or 4. Ditto for the Easter Bunny & the Tooth Fairy. I’m not sure what it says about me, though, that I believed in the Monster Under the Bed until I was at least 8 and I still prefer to have moral support when going into my mom’s basement.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can relate to needing moral support to go into the basement. For years I was convinced there was something in the attic next to my bedroom (an experience which I’ve written about here). Oddly enough the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were characters I never really believed in, maybe because they didn’t play that big a role in our house.

      Reply
  4. Margot

    I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Clause. When I was about four my older sister pointed out that there was no way he could even get to every house in our town, let alone the whole world in one night. (We weren’t as sophisticated as you were, obviously, as it didn’t occur to us that not all countries celebrated Christmas.) This logic was easily applied to the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy as well. When I was in kindergarten the teacher sent us out into the play yard and closed the curtains so that we couldn’t see in. She’d mentioned earlier that we’d be getting a visit from the Easter Bunny that day, so I figured out that she was in there distributing candy. Having felt very foolish after learning that Santa wasn’t real, I decided that I should let my whole class know that it was the teacher and not the Easter Bunny who was currently inside leaving us treats. This didn’t go over the way I thought it would. I imagined my classmates would be grateful to know they’d fallen for a silly make believe story of a giant rabbit. Most of them looked at me like I was a big weirdo, but a few of them cried. So much for my good deed.

    Up until my daughter was around 8 years old, she was terrified every Christmas Eve and would come into our bed, which meant that we got very little sleep. She loved Santa, but the idea of anyone getting into our house without us letting them in was horrifying to her. I was pretty glad when they stopped believing in Santa. The whole concept is very strange in so many ways.

    Great Weekly Essay!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s really terrible but I find it kind of funny that you made some of your classmates cry by telling them there was no Easter Bunny. I think there’s something deeper going on, though, with those sorts of experiences. For many of us it’s the first time we learn that adults will lie to us, and it’s not just a little lie either but a broad conspiracy that lots of adults participate in.
      And if Santa seems strange I wonder how long French kids hang onto the belief that Easter chocolates are delivered by a flying bell. I can accept a giant basket-carrying bunny, but the idea of a flying sentient bell is just too much.
      I’m very glad your daughter is no longer terrified at Christmas. Maybe there is something strange and even disturbing about the tradition of telling kids a strange man is entering the house to drop off presents, but it should still be a happy time of year.

      Reply
  5. Gina W.

    My son is almost eight and I feel like this is the last year that he’ll believe in Santa. He’s not freaked out by a stranger coming into our house but he IS freaked out by those Elf on the Shelf dolls. We don’t have one but he’s seen them in stores and on TV. Plus, some of his classmates have them. He recently asked me if the dolls were real so I told him no. Plus, I told him that I didn’t like the idea of a doll snitching on kids to Santa every night. I told him the saying, “Snitches get stitches”. Later he told me he let the kids on his bus know that the Elf on the Shelf doll isn’t real. Great. I told him to not to ruin it for the other kids. I hope I don’t get any phone calls from angry parents…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      A lot of adults are freaked out by Elf On The Shelf dolls too, and with good reason. Hopefully he will ruin it for the other kids, or at least make them suspicious of the surveillance state represented by those elves. Yeah, “snitches get stitches”. That’s brilliant. Now I know where your son gets his fascination with the Mafia from.

      Reply
  6. kdcol

    The video is blocked for me as well, but that’s because I’m at work and they like to block pretty much ALL content. But that’s another story. Great post, Chris! Brings back memories of when I was still a believer myself. You know, about 5 years ago. haha. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Five years ago? I didn’t think it was that long. I’ll offer you a drink but I’m going to need to see some ID first. Anyway I hope you get to watch the video later and enjoy it.

      Reply
  7. Sandra

    I won’t even ask how burning the coal in your room turned out…obviously fine since here you are sharing your fun life tales with us.
    This is yet another one of those post where, as I begin reading, I think, “I don’t think I’m into another Santa story line,” and two lines into it, I’m captivated. And the only reason for this is because you have such a way a beautiful and fun way of weaving your story into a reality we can all imagine…except for the spiders that can kill you from 6 feet away. I can’t imagine that nor do I want to.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The coal I burned in my room made a lovely fire that went very nicely with the small cedar tree I cut down, put up in my room, and decorated with hand-made decorations. Okay only one of those things is really true.
      Anyway I’m glad you enjoyed the story and I hope I haven’t completely turned you off of someday visiting Australia, or I may have to return the check given to me by the Australia tourism board.

      Reply

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