Since I was born in 1946, I did not see a television until I was in third or fourth grade. Back then, it was relatively easy for parents to pretend Santa Claus existed, especially since we were living in Fort Richardson, Alaska, at the time. On Saturday mornings, we would go down to the basement and sit around the radio while we listened to children’s shows, such as THE TEDDY BEAR’S PICNIC.
We had no mall Santas. We had no malls. Parents didn’t have to explain why the Santa at Penney’s smelled like cigarettes and had gray hair while the one at Sears—at the other end of the mall—smelled like Old Spice and had white hair.
We had the Army Post Exchange. Period. Even then, we children never got to go shopping with Mother. There were seven children at that time, and the twin boys were still in diapers. Mother wisely chose to go the store without any children in tow. She went alone and stayed a long time.
When Christmas came around, all the girls in the family received dolls. I was sure I would receive an excellent, outstanding doll because I had tried to be extra special good for Santa. My twin and I, however, received very plain dolls. So did two other sisters. Very plain dolls.
Our younger sister received one that wet and talked.
I knew my twin and I were good girls, at least as good as our younger sister. Santa didn’t love us as much, apparently. I tried to figure out why.
That night, after my bedtime prayers, I asked Santa what I was doing wrong. I would just have to try harder to be a good girl, I thought, so Santa would love me more. I had a whole year to convince him.
Then when we got back to school after Christmas break, I found out about all the goodies the Mean Girl received. She got a new dress. And new ice skates. And a small motion picture machine that projected Mickey Mouse movies on the wall. All I got was a doll that didn’t even wet, much less talk. Santa loved her more than me.
A few days later, my mother caught me in a lie. Mother was a good old farm girl, who had ridden to town in a buggy pulled by horses when she was young. She believed in corporal punishment. Lots of people did, back in the fifties.
When she caught me in that lie, she used a switch on my legs until I was doing the ouch-ouch-ouch dance. I know people today are appalled when they hear of such a thing happening, but it was more accepted back then. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” was often quoted by my devout mother.
It was only a couple of days later that I caught my mother in a lie. I heard her say into the phone, “I’m sorry, but we can’t come over after all. Marilyn is sick.”
I am? I don’t feel sick. Maybe I’m sick and don’t know it. No, I haven’t been to the doctor since we moved to Alaska… Mother told a lie! I don’t believe it.
That very afternoon, I found out there was no Santa Claus. The Mean Girl told me. At first I refused to believe it, but my older sister told me the truth.
No Santa Claus? They had been lying to us all these years? Not just lying. Oh, no. Blackmail and bribery went along with it.
“You’d better stop doing that. Santa Claus will bring you coal.”
“If you don’t help clear the table, Santa Claus won’t bring you anything.”
I’m sure you have heard similar statements on the days–if not weeks–before Christmas.
Ever since that day, the jolly old elf makes me want to punch him out. Or at least take a switch to his legs.
I also worry about what little children think who live with their parents in cars or under bridges. Do their parents tell them that Santa forgot them or just that he could not find their house?
When my children were young, I told them right up front that Santa Claus did not bring their presents. Call me mean. Call me resentful. Call me bitter. I can take it.
I told them about the legendary Santa Claus.
Nicholas, who lived around 280 A.D. in what is now Turkey, became St. Nicholas because of his legendary kindness. History claims that he gave away the wealth he inherited. He also traveled around, helping the poor and sick. One popular tale states that he gave money to a father of three girls to keep him from having to sell them into slavery.
I found out later that on St. Nicholas day, December 6, families who follow the tradition present gifts to their children in his honor. I had to add the part about December 6 when my first-grader came home, hands on hips, and told me that many students in her class received a present from St. Nicholas that morning when they sat down to breakfast. In New Braunfels, a town with a strong German heritage, a St. Nicholas present was quite common. I never forgot another St. Nicholas Day.
When I originally told my children about St. Nicholas, I also told them to never tell other children who still believed in Santa that he was just an old tradition. Unfortunately, my son told all the children in his day care center that Santa was dead and that he had died long ago.
I still cringe when I remember the irate phone call from the day care director, followed by phone calls from the parents. I think they wanted to take a switch to my legs.
My daughter now has two children, and the first-grader still believes in Santa Claus. The fourth-grader now believes in Grandma, which is fine with me.
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