Christmas is the most elusive of holidays. We plan for it, anticipate it, obsess over it and then barely experience Christmas in the present tense. On the hallowed morning, shredded wrapping paper has scarcely been swept into towering piles before some well-meaning Scrooge remarks, “You know you’ll need to get up early tomorrow if you want to get the good half-priced Hallmarks.” Seriously, Aunt Myrtle, at least get the breakfast eggnog poured before you start planning next Christmas.
No wonder America is a little bit neurotic about Noel.
Take Santa Claus, for instance. There could be no more insidious myth with which to permanently pretzel an impressionable mind. (Unless you are one of those precocious children reading Weld, in which case Uncle Courtney is just joshing, and why don’t you flip back to the front to see what that nice Mr. Kelly has to say this week?)
First, a devil’s bargain is proposed, equating good behavior with cheap plastic toys. There is no hard and fast menu of equivalencies, in which, say, a year’s worth of diligence is rewarded with two walkie-talkies and a hoverboard. However, the child is allowed to negotiate during testimony at a public interrogation held annually near a local emporium of cheap plastic toys. The Grand Inquisitor, a florid, bearded behemoth with a penchant for dandling, probes into the child’s activities since their last meeting. The terrified tyke, already apprised of the Big Man’s omniscience—what child can get a decent night’s shuteye knowing that “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good”?—faced with receiving nothing for telling the truth, then gambles and lies.
“Have you been good this year?”
It is an unmitigated falsehood in the first degree, and in each succeeding year the child tells it with an ever more buoyant heart. That is because no matter how often the lie is told, something good always shows up beneath the Christmas tree. Santa is revealed to have as little enforcement clout as a brace of state legislators and the seeds for disrespect of vested authority have been sown. (This includes disrespect for authority in two-piece suits as well.)
Then there are the disquieting details of Santa’s worldwide enterprise. The child is told that toys come from Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. Any kid with cable TV has watched enough of the Discovery Channel to realize that a manufacturing plant established in the icebound Arctic has little access to the natural resources required to make toys and no way to obtain them in quantity save by airlift or nuclear submarine.
Even if Santa could get the raw materials, there is an insufficient resident labor pool. Elves would have to relocate from Third World countries and be given salary incentives that would make Alaskan oil workers’ look like Cracker Jack prizes. The overhead would cause Santa’s operation to tumble like a house of Christmas cards, and repercussions in the global economy would lead to stagflation of the Weimar Republic variety.
Even allowing that Santa could bring the toys, there is the creepy way Santa would bring the toys. A child is told that, having fabricated enough toys for every “good” little boy and girl on the planet, Der Kringle will put them all in one big bag and deliver them during a single night’s circumnavigation of the globe via a beast-drawn sleigh. The unwieldy sleigh will land on the roof of each recipient’s home and the big man, no doubt whizzing on methamphetamines, will force an entry into the child’s abode through the one aperture unprotected by electronic security systems: the chimney. Once inside, Santa, his appetite apparently insatiable, will eat a cholesterol-loaded snack, just as he has done at six hundred million homes previously that evening, before sitting down to assemble every single toy he has delivered.
Santa operates with impunity. He needs no warrant to enter a private residence, he requires no permits to violate the airspace of the sovereign nations through which he travels, he is not subject to import quotas or European Union treaty commitments. Santa is like the NSA with candy canes.
At dawn Christmas morning, Santa’s work is done. He returns home, a child might presume, to a well-deserved rest and hearty fare prepared by Mrs. Claus. The child would presume wrongly. The old texts make no mention of a spousal relationship, leading some skeptics to suggest that Santa might have more than one beard. Anyone with his workload and corporate responsibilities, they say, would be incapable of sustaining anything like a normal marital relationship. It could happen. Ted Turner and Jane Fonda were happily wed once. But like that marriage, Santa Claus’s would have been strained by financial matters unrelated to the emotional bond. It is easy to imagine the Clauses leading separate lives; he at the Pole, she in the Hamptons; he with his business interests, she with a cabana boy. They might get together once a year in Manhattan for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and dinner in Tribeca, after which they would jet off to their respective domiciles, barred by legal writ from penning tell-all memoirs.
Gee, look at the time. I haven’t even begun to debunk the corollary myths of Christmas, such as the notion that a roasted chestnut is a signal improvement upon the raw variety, or that anyone should be allowed to re-record Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Please Come Home)”. Maybe next year. Meanwhile, I must finish composing a last-minute email to a certain URL at zero degrees latitude. I finally made up my mind between the BB-8 Droid and PlayStation 4, and if I don’t get my request in fast, I’m afraid I’m gonna wind up getting the Donald Trump Chia Head.
C’mon, I’ve been a good boy this year…