Santa Claus in Chicago Douglas Rahden [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
As Christmas approached, my mom would take me to the month-end sales to try on clothes and visit the various Santa Clauses. I don’t know what age it was when I moved from the innocent child in the sailor suit to a perceptive thinker and analyst of Saint Nick.
I reasoned that there could only be one true Santa Claus. Yet I saw a plethora of Santa Clauses on our shopping circuit. There was at least one in every department store. Other Santa Clauses were outside ringing bells. They were on television and in parades. They were everywhere.
I asked Santa (at least one of them) while sitting on his knee chatting about my needs and wants, why there were so many Santa Clauses. His reply: “I’m the real Santa Claus. Those others are my helpers.”
My mom was a depression-era trained bargain hunter, so we hit up several stores looking for sales in the holiday season. This gave me the opportunity to hook up with several Santa Clauses. I asked each one the same question and they would all give the same answer – I’m the real one; the others are my helpers.
I wasn’t a math major yet but I knew that only one could be telling the truth. The
By Florida Memory (Child Looking at Santa on the Beach) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
others were liars. How do I find the one true Santa?
The bell ringers were definitely helpers, perhaps working their way up the ranks to human interaction. To analyze the sitting Santa Clauses fielding the multitudinous requests of expectant and earnest children that fueled the North Pole order fulfillment, behavior QC, and supply chain management, I needed a sharper technique to determine the wheat from the tares.
I found that after I communicated my gift list and Santa embarked upon his morality soliloquy about being nice and helpful and all that, I could study his beard. If I figured out how it stuck on, then he was another fake. One used lip tape. The other used some sort of string netting I wasn’t supposed to see that tied behind his neck. As I marched back to my mother who was declining the photo package, I would proudly inform her, “He wasn’t the real one.”
My theory was that the real Santa was the one at the fire station. This Santa Claus was upscale. He always gave the children a chocolate covered marshmallow Santa figure, not those small peppermint candy canes that required work, sucking, and get stuck in your teeth. Everyone knows that chocolate trumps hard candy every time.
Further, he was not tied to a store trying to lure you in to buy perfume and neck ties and a photo package. At the fire station, they had a lawn full of lights and decorations. It just felt different and more sincere than the department store Santa crammed behind the Sears insurance booth.
It was like magic as I waited in line among the lights to see the fire station Santa. I walked by the reindeer, the giant gum drops, and the helping elves. I went forward and sat on Santa’s knee.
“Hello, David,” he said, “How are you?”
I was flabbergasted and astounded! “How did you know my name?” I asked.
“Because,” he said, “I’m Santa Claus. I know everything.”
Wow! I was in astonishment as pondered out into the distance. As I adjusted my gaze, I saw my mother pointing to her shoulder. I looked down to my shoulder and saw the forgotten paper name tag that said “David”.
That’s was when I jumped up on his knee, pulled his beard, stared into his beady brown eyes and yelled, “You lying son of a . . .”
OK, I really didn’t do that. I told him my toy list as they snapped my photo. I took my chocolate marshmallow Santa and walked with mom to the car. I felt a little silly that I had forgotten about the name tag.
Some time later, my mom told me there was no Santa – that he was just a story. My brother came to me later and asked, “So, they hold you, huh?”
“Yeah,” I replied feeling as if I was supposed to be more devastated than I was. But I wasn’t sad or disappointed. I had this gig figured out long before and it was really about time that we all agreed to drop the narrative. It had been a nice way to choose toys but there never seemed to be a correlation between behavior and the quality of gifts that were always labeled “From Santa” in my mom’s handwriting.
No longer would I have to be put to bed for an hour on Christmas eve so they could let Santa in through the front door (a slight modification to the story since we didn’t have a fireplace) only to be allowed back out to a room full of relatives getting tipsy on egg nog while we opened our Christmas eve presents.
I’m not sure if forming an early belief in Santa Claus only to have it dismantled made me better or worse. But it was fun while it lasted.