Santa is sitting in our living room, dispensing gifts to neighbourhood children, and saying to a young boy, “So what do you want for Christmas, man?”
Man? This is Groovy Santa, who if you look beneath the expensive red Santa suit, shiny black boots, white hair and beard, bears a striking resemblance to my eldest son, Tim.
Tim is a big lad, but a large pillow is still necessary for the required girth.
Groovy Santa is also Virgin Santa. This is a maiden performance. And an impressive one.
Not that Tim hasn’t been pressed into service at Christmas before. He played a shepherd in the kindergarten nativity scene, wearing a tea-towel over his head, if memory serves.
He played trumpet in the middle-school band Christmas concert, and we puffed with pride until we discovered he wasn’t actually blowing into the instrument, but miming. “I was afraid I’d mess up Good King Wenceslas,” he confessed. “It’s really difficult.”
Every year, poor Tim has to do a Dickensian Tiny Tim and say, “God bless us everyone,” before Christmas dinner because it’s a tradition. He said it when he was really tiny and now Christmas isn’t Christmas without it. It’s kind of kitsch now and he probably wishes we’d christened him Elvis or Garth, but he always delivers. And now we have him bellowing out a ho-ho-ho instead. The things parents ask.
The snow is falling softly outside the window, right on Christmas cue. My wife wanted to host a Breakfast with Santa, so here we are with the neighbours in our townhouse complex, and the kids are decorating home-made gingerbread men, playing party games and receiving a visit from Santa himself.
Tom, who’s six, has told his parents that it won’t be the real Santa. Not here, not in our living room. But after he climbs down from Santa’s lap, he stops briefly, returns and gives Santa a huge hug. Then returns to his parents and says, “He’s the real Santa. I can tell.”
Santa — the real Santa — has become the most politically incorrect character there is. An incongruous role model.
He’s way overweight, he smokes a corn-cob pipe, he produces his toys in a remote offshore location using cheap, vertically challenged labour, he sneaks into people’s houses in the middle of the night, little children happily sit on his knee even though they’ve been warned to beware of strangers, he drinks far too much Coca-Cola and he is in serious need of a haircut and shave.
What’s he doing living in the North Pole anyway? Doesn’t Mrs. Claus get bored up there? And cold? Isn’t it a tad too harsh and isolated? Shouldn’t Santa, who seems to be about 80 years old, be retired in Scottsdale or Florida? Do they play pinochle with the elves? Shuffleboard with the reindeer?
He may be giving up some of his vices. Almost 200 years after Clement Moore gave us The Night Before Christmas, self-published Vancouver author Pamela McColl has excised the part where he has the stump of a pipe in his mouth and smoke encircles his head.
McColl says she wanted to update the book for the 21st century and remove the naughty part. I’d have kept the pipe and replaced the tobacco with medicinal marijuana.
Our modern-day Santa may be obese and merry and jolly — his cheeks like roses, his lips like a cherry — but as the writer David Sedaris observes, the European Saint Nicholas “is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy.”
Santa has gone through updates and refinements over the centuries, and Coca-Cola in the 1930s gave us the version we have today.
But let’s not try to change the old fellow too much, even as we all change and become more cynical and knowing.
He is a wonderful constant. Kind, magical, benevolent and a testament to innocence.
Children around the world love him. And trust him. And much too soon they discover that it’s not all magic and wonder out there.
The longer we can keep that innocence the better. Santa may not be perfect, may be increasingly politically incorrect (he even wears fur) — but let’s not rush to fix his bad habits.
Merry Christmas, man. And to all a good night.