I’m sending a letter to the Complaint Department, Santa’s Workshop, The North Pole. After introducing my one year old to three consecutive sitting Santa’s, every single one has been decidedly lackluster. It would seem they need to be reminded up there that Santa is about more than the red suit and the beard. He’s a figure of merriment, a man of laughter and many ho-ho’s! He calls out Merry Christmas in a resonant, crackly voice that imparts the magic and the wonder of the holiday. He’s not just a cardboard cut-out with a 3D lap. He’s supposed to be believable. He’s supposed to have warmth. The imaginations of American children are being undersold.
Even our local Santa arrival on Nantucket Island, by way of the Coast Guard Cutter and attended by Mrs. Clause and the uniformed, life-vested crew, was anticlimactic when the mister and missus got off the boat with nary a ho-ho, and had to be reminded by the Town Crier’s bell ringing apprentice that one or two would be in order. It was indeed kind for the crinkly-eyed man to come up and shake my little boy's hand, I’ll hand him that. And to Cayce’s skeptical appraisal he offered a somewhat crackly chuckle. But as far as the whole picture went-- it could use some filling in-- there was far too much relying on the scene's natural serenity and too little of imbuing it with ticklish life.
As the holiday season wears on, sitting Santa’s are pretty much inescapable. They are everywhere we go. So can anyone really fault me for eventually giving in and breaking my promise to avoid the lair of the lap? My promise to myself was to follow my child’s cues, rather than insist on a Kodak moment, but it felt like my kid was cueing me to go on up to the guy in the chintzy red suit. I can’t say I really waited it out, though, to be sure that I was reading him right. It was more that I felt pressured, once we were in the vicinity of our third Santa at a holiday craft fair at our local high school, to follow the path made by the velvet ropes to the velvet suit. There was no line, after all. And Cayce was pointing to him. He was certainly, by this stage of the game, Santa savvy. He had just that morning at his Auntie’s had a rollicking romp with a table top Clause who wore suspenders and sang “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” as he danced. But really, who was I to interpret his pointing and exclaiming as a desire to sit? How could I know his pointing wasn’t just a way of saying, “Look!”
Deep down I was worried that if I just let my son stand there and point and look, people would think I was depriving my child of his Hallmark Happening.
The minute I saw him sitting on the lap of the skinniest, youngest (as in, still with acne) and darkest-eyebrowed Santa we had come across, I regretted my choice. Cayce didn’t look miserable, he wasn’t crying, but he had that stunned look of a deer in headlights. It’s a look I haven’t seen on him before or since. And the photographer, another high school student, kept asking me to try to get him to look over at us for the picture, but instead my son was gazing wide-eyed all around at the shaken snow globe world that was the scene at this holiday bazaar. The student Santa clearly hadn’t been given many tips. He muttered “hello”, not much more. It’s a sad state of affairs when the mechanical tabletop Santa’s can better capture a child’s interest than the live ones. Where was the, “And so, my lad, what would you like for Christmas? Have you been good this year?” Where was the jelly-belly Santa charisma? I have the moment frozen in time now on the Polaroid, a moment for the scrapbooks: Child and novice Santa both frozen in the lights, looking bland. Thanks for the memories.
Don’t get me wrong. I am enchanted myself in the story of Santa Clause, the man who makes his way around the world via reindeer-driven sleigh on Christmas Eve, stopping at the home of every child. I love the merry man with the laughter. But now that I’m a mom, and could use him more than ever, I’m a little hard put to find the Khris Kringle I love and remember.
Despite all of this, my one-year-old seems to be getting the gist. He walks around the house, carrying a greeting card depicting an old fashioned Santa saying, “Ho-ho-ho.” Perhaps there's a future for him in this noble profession. Actually, over my dead body. But it's fun to see him perfecting his craft for use perhaps in some higher calling (a Frosty, for instance, has some real possibilities). But next year we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for a Clause who maybe had a goofy mom, as Cayce does, or who at least as taken a method acting class or two.
Until then, from the belly, now: “Ho! Ho! Ho! and Merry Christmas!” (in crackly basso)