A Christmas Story

Baby was on Santa's "nice" list this year.

Most adults can maintain the Santa Claus mystique for young kids, and deftly, too. A couple years ago my cousin Melinda and her husband Jeff curbed their son Walter’s naughtiness by making him write a letter of apology to Santa Claus. Parents have staged phone calls from the North Pole workshop and jingled sleigh bells near rooftops to as evidence of the jolly old elf’s existence.

Well today I thoroughly disqualified myself from consideration in the ‘Santa Is Real’ Corps of Parents. We are spending Christmas at my inlaws’ house in Georgia. This morning we were opening gifts, when a box for Baby was pulled out from under the tree. It was labeled “from Santa”. Instead of going with it and admiring Santa’s thoughtfulness, I turned to Hubby and asked:

“From who?”
“Santa,” Hubby told me.

“Yeah, but who?”

“Santa Claus,” Hubby repeated.

“Who really gave her the present?”

San-ta. San-ta Claus,” Hubby told his wife, who had grown remarkably thick during the flight down south, apparently. This happened in front of my doe-eyed, rosy-cheeked three-year old daughter and her equally pure in heart five-year-old cousin. Neither of them had teetered into Santa Claus disbelief, so I was obviously treading on dangerous ground here.

Readers, I don’t know why I fell down on the job. I should certainly be among those to embrace and promote the Santa Claus Myth, mainly because I grew up without it. My mother and I lived in a modest but well-appointed one-bedroom apartment until I was nine years old.

There was no fireplace, no chimney by which to hang my stocking with care, for I knew St. Nicolas would not be there.

We  did not have a portal for Santa to appear in our home and deliver my presents. I also spied stashes of toys in the basement leading up to the big day one year.  Above all that, my mother and I attended a Pentecostal church, where the presbytery and members generally took a somber and cynical attitude toward modern Christmas celebrations. Each year they raised the same question: Why should we observe these pagan rituals?

In their eyes, the Santa Claus myth, the excessive spending, onslaught of food, and over-the-top light displays, were completely inappropriate ways to mark a sacred Christian holiday. My mother, with her razor-sharp tongue, deemed everything from wreaths on doorways to elves living in the North Pole region to be stupid solstice rituals which should never be used to help mark the birth of the Son of God.

I never had a Christmas tree, didn’t sing a lot of secular carols and ended up celebrating the holidays in simple, stripped-down ways sanctioned by our church. It was all right, though. I still had a good time drinking sorrel, eating black cake and listening to people’s stories about marking the Christmas season in Jamaica, notable high jinks at Grand Market Night or events surrounding Jonkanoo.  Also, a sprinkling of Christians like us found simple and discreet ways to adapt secular Christmas activities to our taste. My aunt Vera decorated a small Christmas tree in the teacher’s cottage where we lived, and some members of our church put sprinklings of lights in their windows. Some plastered their front doors with banners that read: “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and we all went on with our lives after that.

As for me, I bought a Christmas tree for our house the first year we moved in, and have had one nearly every year since. I live in a three-story Queen Anne style home, so I’ve tried to create decorating schemes with an updated Victorian feel. There have been a few comical missteps here and there, aside from this year’s Santa gaffe. A few years ago, for instance, Little Sister and I went shopping in a local Marshall’s for Christmas decor when I selected a Christmas tree skirt. Little Sister inspected it by holding it up to her waist, and asking me how she should fasten it. There are many reasons for that comical slip, including the fact that Christmas tree skirts were foreign objects in our home. Like mistletoe clusters, they were among the artifacts of a secular culture to which we had little exposure and were very indifferent.

So, I got a clue about “Santa Claus,” at long last and joined in on the fun. My guess is that as Baby explores Christmas traditions, we may look to Hubby—or Wikipedia—to point us in the right way.

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