Although people often criticize the Santa Claus figure for intensifying the commercialism of Christmas, I enjoyed his special magic. I confess I was one of the greedy children who boldly listed numerous presents, numbered in order of desirability, with appropriate locations and prices. On Christmas, I tabulated the haul beside my stocking with my requests. It never matched, but I was thrilled that an enchanted immortal elf had come right into my small shabby house and left gifts of love for a little nobody like me.
Fortunately, my own children accepted my rules about Santa letters. Santa would fill their stockings and leave one special toy for each child. They could suggest one or two ideas, but it was up to Santa to decide. What? No list? Ah, but what a thrill knowing Santa might bring that extravagant toy advertised on Saturday morning cartoons, when Mom and Dad said it was too expensive. This put the jolly man in red on SUPERHERO status.
My children suspected that Santa did not have the same standards of “good” behaviour that Mom and Dad did. Didn’t the hair-puller up the street get an incredible Ghost Buster vehicle? Didn’t the manipulative girl from school get a Barbie bride doll? Santa obviously loved them in spite of their flaws and all these dire warnings about “watching out” and not crying or pouting were nothing but parental machinations.
Fuelling the legend did not come without its physical as well as financial price. Every year we would allow the children to stay up a little later for family carolling, the reading of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and a check with CBC radio on Santa’s progress. They’d set out the snacks for Santa and his reindeer. (Honest, honey, Santa doesn’t mind store-bought cookies.) Mom and Dad would watch a bit of television or read for a while, naively assuming that the children would fall asleep during this time, enabling Santa to make his visit.
Not that our children didn’t appreciate what their parents brought. I always planned a perfect balance of gifts, equal number and equal cost. Christmas Eve, I would slip them into their sacks (I may not be able to fly in a sleigh, but I can save a few trees). The sacks are numbered, each child receiving the same number, opening them in the same order, and each matching number containing a gift of similar value. (Santa would have ho ho hoed himself silly.)
Inevitably, I would discover one of my daughter’s gifts hadn’t arrived. I would try to rejuggle them into balance of number and quality. Sometimes, I gave up and slipped a few bucks in place of the missing gift. I’d pile them carefully under the tree, then realize my son was missing a package. I already gave a gift of clothing to him on the night of the Christmas concert because last year’s outfit was suddenly too small, even though it fit the week before. Then, I’d root through the packages in search of the money, renumbering and rejuggling. (Fortunately, I have mellowed over the years.)
Time to check the children. Like four blue spotlights, their eyes shone in the dark. “Is it morning?”
“How could it be morning? You haven’t gone to sleep yet!”
“It seems like a very long time.“
Not as long as it was going to seem. Mom and Dad lay quietly in the dark, trying not to fall asleep and wake to the horror that Santa screwed up. Periodically, the toilet would flush, reminding us that little children awake past their bedtime have busy bladders. Eventually, we gave the big threat. “If you keep getting up, Santa won’t come. In a couple of hours, the sun will rise and he’ll have to head back to the North Pole without bringing your presents. Stay in bed with your door shut.”
Finally, Santa arrived. He dragged out all the presents that had been stashed in obscure places. He could have stored them in the bottom of their closets or under their beds and they never would have noticed amid all the refuse of Christmases past.
The stiff plastic bags sounded like gunshots going off in the night. To his surprise, many of the gifts still had price tags. Santa peeled and scratched, only to discover most have another price below. The tags stuck to his sleeves, his pants and the bottom of his big black boots.
He filled the stockings, then turned with a sigh. One looked fuller than the other. He knew that small gifts often cost more than large ones, but did the children? Of course, I didn’t mind if he used something from under the tree to help stuff the sock. He rooted through the sacks to find something that would fill out the smaller stocking, while I rejuggled all the presents again.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, we finally got it right.”
Click on the book cover for more information.