This time of year, it seems like the most popular guy around is Santa Claus. However, if I am honest I have never been one of his biggest fans, in fact I might even be a little Claus-trophobic. I do not really know why, but even as a child I found him rather disconcerting. To my knowledge there exists no childhood picture of me with jolly old St. Nick. In the deep recesses of my mind I can recall an instance or two of standing in line to go sit on Santa’s lap to have my picture taken, but while in line I had time to ponder the upcoming encounter and complained, squirmed, even cried my way out of actually spending time with him. I do recall; however, that I was not beyond extending a quick “hello” to the man in red in exchange for a candy cane as he made his way through the department store with his red bag of treats. I suppose that was a price I was willing to pay for a little peppermint.
If you stop and think about it Santa does present a bit of a conundrum to a small child. Throughout the rest of the year, parents tell their children, “Don’t talk to strangers!” “Don’t take candy from strangers!” “Don’t let strangers into the house!” Then Christmas rolls around and parents tell their children, “Don’t be afraid of Santa.” “Tell Santa what you want for Christmas and he will give you candy!” Then they encourage you to leave out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa so he can have a snack after he sneaks into the house in the middle of the night while everyone is asleep and the doors have been locked! Perhaps my simple childlike mind just could not handle the inherent incongruity that this man brought to the otherwise consistent advice I received from my parents.
On the other hand, perhaps I was just intimidated by this god-like person. I was told that he had a list that had been cross-checked, that he actually knew who had been naughty and who had been nice. I was told that he could see me when I was sleeping, he could see me when I was awake and that he really knew if I had been bad of good. I was admonished that I better watch out, I better not cry and I better not pout simply because Santa Clause was coming to town. While this seemed to be a cause of rejoicing for others, I found the whole thing a bit troubling especially when another song about Santa instructed me to jump in bed and cover my head because Santa Claus comes tonight! We sang about him arriving on the rooftop to bring gifts for all the good little boys and girls. For little Nell he brought a dolly that laughs and cries, one that will open and shut her eyes which seemed well enough. However, for little Will, he brings a hammer and lots of tacks and a ball and a whip that cracks, these sound a bit dangerous in the hands of a young lad.
The whole Santa thing just seemed a bit too reciprocal for my tastes. It seemed like the usual portrayal of Santa was vis-à-vis, tit for tat, pay to play. If I was good and Santa saw me being good, I would receive a present. Perhaps I always knew that deep down I really was not all that good, even when nobody was watching. I am not bashing Santa and he has made his appearance at my house through the years as my children grew. But I realized long ago that I prefer the story of a baby who came to a manger who really knows me and knows that there is little in me that is good, but in spite of that, he brings me his presence on Christmas and throughout the year.