For Christmas 2015, aka, my (so far) worst Christmas ever, I’m resuscitating last year’s Santa post- with a 2015 addendum on our ongoing Santa drama…
My kid’s first Christmas was the first one in forever that I didn’t hate. Before Grace, I found every holiday after Halloween inconvenient at best, and greedily pushy at worst. The pressure of gift buying was as much fun as simply burning the money I didn’t have to spend on other people. When tradition grows up to be expectation- it’s not the spirit of Christmas- it’s a pay off, a bribe with a bow.
But my 8-month-old daughter’s first Christmas re-ignited the long-dead pilot light in my coal-black holiday soul. I craved a cozy tree, charming decorations, flattering twinkle lights and Johnny Mathis pouring honey-flavored hope back into my craven heart.
The husband was pretty much counting on not having to unbuckle for Christmas– he sees gift buying for me as a harrowing, suicide mission of a personality test even the most clear Scientologists would fail. He was banking on not having to decorate or pony up stocking stuffers until Grace was old enough to care. Besides, he reasoned–
HUSBAND: We’re going to New York for Christmas to be surrounded by insane-about-Grace family members. Why bother spending money on a tree and stuff when we won’t even be here?
He might have been correct financially, but since my fit of Good Grinch wasn’t going anywhere, he pulled out his old TV set-decorating skills & lit the place up like Vegas. And as we decorated and listened to Mathis and She & Him’s Christmas Album I actually grew sentimental.
Growing up, money was tight. Our parents held down multiple jobs but something came over ALL of us right after Thanksgiving. By the time we finished using up every single decoration our mom had amassed, the Christmas decorations and lights probably held our little run-down house together. We wore out Julie Andrews’ Christmas album until Julie sounded like she was begging us for a break.
Even worse, we were such weird little Catholic school girl theater nerds, my sisters and I would rehearse Christmas. We’d write scripts. Our dialogue crackled with lines like–
ME: Elizabeth, wake up! Do you hear what I hear?
We’d rehearse endlessly, pretending to sleep all night on the tiny staircase connecting our bedrooms to the living room, where our tree overdosed on shedding satin-wrapped Christmas balls, buried under layers of ‘snow’ which was asbestos-laden fiberglass or something equally cheerful but carcinogenic. They don’t make that stuff anymore… perhaps not even in China. Christmas was the apex of our existence.
I’ve begrudgingly tolerated Christmas ever since I grew up and moved on, as if it was a dead-end relationship I was too weak/lazy to end. I just phoned it in year after year, wondering if I’d ever be brave enough to dump Christmas for good. Then I became a mother.
While I knew that my kid was still too young to grasp the concept of an older, bearded man in red lounge-wear breaking into our home while we sleep, I determined to create traditions for us as a family to feel pressured to honor year after year, no matter how much we all would eventually grow to hate ourselves and blame each other for instituting them.
I’ve come to realize the worst of these traditions is the annual visit to Santa, which more resembles a torturous rite of passage that parents exact on their kids, with professional photographers dressed as elves conveniently on hand to commemorate our children’s agony. I often wondered why otherwise devoted parents smile as their children scream and sob in terror on some oddly bearded stranger’s red velour lap while someone dressed like like an overeager pedophile photographs the whole sordid mess.
And then I became that person and I joined that awful club. As a child we’d get all excited and dressed up, go into the city, marvel at the store windows and the tree at Rockefeller Center and then go and weep and howl and scream on Santa’s lap at Macy’s in Herald Square, then go to the Rockettes & Nativity show at Radio City. Stuck in miserable traffic while we whined all the way home, our furious dad would swear this was the last effing time, ever. Then we’d do it again the next year.
The only Santa’s Lap in LA is at The Grove. You avoid letting the man-made snow get in your mouth, then wait for four hours to sit on Santa’s knee. If you are white. As a white person, I am not slogging white people for doing any of this, it’s what you do when you have a white kid and you want them to suffer as you did when you were a kid.
We dressed up Grace and showed her all the decorations and trolley cars full of musicians with wooden-soldier-blush on and we waited so long for Santa we qualified for AARP by the time we got inside. Then we handed her to White Santa- a kind and patient pro who took the time and knew exactly how to not make a baby cry. The photo is fine, she just looks a bit baffled by the whole crazy scene.
Then I just had to take her to Black Santa. Perhaps it was because I read about the beloved Black Santa at the Crenshaw mall. Maybe it’s because my daughter is black and because Megyn Kelly, the hot stewardess of Fox News, declared Santa and Jesus are verifiably, factually white. That inspired me, my sister, husband and nephew to be all reactionary white people and get Grace all dressed up again and head on down to Crenshaw Mall. Because I might not yet have my traditions down pat but my biracial family doesn’t celebrate Megyn Kelley’s White Christmas.
It was 90 degrees outside and a long walk to the front door. It probably took 45 minutes to navigate Macy’s, find the up escalator, walk deeper and deeper into the mall where we finally spotted the big-ass tree and massive white leatherette chair surrounded by mall-elves. Grace couldn’t have cared less about any of this, except for the escalators. She wanted to ride them over and over.
The biggest difference between Crenshaw Mall’s Santa-land and the Grove’s Santa-land was Santa-access. At the Grove, Santa is ensconced deep inside a massive lair made of large fake candy, plastic baked goods and tons of wrapped presents, in case we forgot we were inside a mall full of crap to buy. You don’t see Santa until you are asked which photo package you are willing to buy. Signs everywhere warn you to keep smart phones deeply hidden. No stealing selfies with White Santa.
At Crenshaw Mall we could see clearly see Santa from our tenth ride on a distant escalator, since he was completely exposed to the mall elements and any old cellphone. And that was when I saw that Black Santa was not black. Maybe Megyn Kelly was right after all.
My heart sank as we got closer, realizing this Santa was more of a South American brown instead of a black that might make my 8-month-old-daughter somehow proud. My sister and nephew laugh-cried as they asked what I wanted to do now. I concluded it was pretty darn racist to come all this way and not get a photo with Santa because he wasn’t black enough. As I tentatively approached the tense head elf, my mind raced with how exactly to ask for Black Santa without sounding like the only white woman in Crenshaw Mall.
ME: Um, hi. Is there… another Santa somewhere else in this mall?
The head elf, a black man in his 50s eyed me and Grace quickly with no emotion.
HEAD ELF: You mean Black Santa? He doesn’t come on until 3:00.
It was 11:30. The clock was winding down to Grace’s iron-clad naptime. We could wait until Black Santa’s rock star entrance but she’d be such a raving banshee by then that we’d probably get banished from Black (or any color) Santa-land.
I ponied up the 15 bucks and accidentally gave my kid to Brown Santa who just grabbed Grace, plopped her in his lap, and she super-FREAKED. Brown Santa has shocking subpar baby savvy skills.
For some reason, probably stemming back to childhood where I was taught to always pretend ‘all is swell’ for a camera — I jumped into the photo, jammed an arm around Santa as Grace screamed, I grinned like an idiot, as if to compensate for a howling grimacing Grace, forever arching her body into a perfect letter C, reaching for her father’s arms. The photo elf showed me the photos, all of them ridiculous and heart breaking. I picked the one that was most flattering to me.
At least we had four escalator rides before getting out of the mall. Those wild mechanical rides made her forget all about Santa. Santa 2014. She was done, but I was plotting for next year…
And this was from the following Christmas, 2014- with an East Indian Santa in Herald Square NYC. We missed Black Santa this year as we were in NYC and we waited in line at Macy’s until we realized the line was four hours long. I turned to my mother and said,
ME: She’s just going to freak out on Santa’s lap. Why are we waiting four hours?
MOM: For me.
Well, that was the wrong answer. Of course, if I had known that was my mother’s last Macy’s Santa visit, I would have waited all night. But sanity prevailed and we left. This guy was out front making lots of money off the other Grinchy families refusing to wait six hours in a hot hallway. East Indian Santa wasn’t a happy Santa for Grace either, but he was great at giving us directions to the F Train. And yes, I am an awful mother… after this photo was taken, we drove her to New Hampshire in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning she was sleeping in while everyone was impatiently waiting to give her presents, so I woke her up.
ME: Hey Grace? Time to wake up. Santa came and brought all these presents for you, under the tree!
Grace rolled away from me, muttering as she burrowd back under the covers.
GRACE: Santa? I don’t wanna see that guy.
Santa 2015. A strange new phenomenon is sweeping families all over America. Apparently, not just home-kombucha-brewing parents, but all kinds of regular parents have concluded Santa Claus is more than a little creepy and the whole concept of telling Santa what you want for Christmas is basically teaching your kids to be greedy. On top of that, parents don’t really climb on board the whole Santa fantasy as one friend said-
FRIEND: I work hard for my money. Why should some imaginary dude get all the credit for magically giving my kids all the presents I worked my ass off to get? And I’m not comfortable lying to my kids. It feels mean to be like, “You’re ten now. You still can’t believe Santa exists now. Especially when they’re ten and a total mess of big teeth and feet and being beyond uncool.
On top of that, we are mindful, conscious parents who strive all year to make our kids safe and smart and sovereign little people — we constantly reiterate that no one intimately touches them (aside from us) or bribes them with toys and treats. Parents and teachers and doctors routinely teach kids about stranger-danger, but somehow make one large expensive exception- this one large dude with way too much blush, a fake beard, and terrible taste in pajamas and personal thrones gets to pull you onto his lap and you get to whisper in his ear and tell him what you really, really want.
My Christmas-loving mom considered the Santa visit an integral tradition of childhood, but we are forgoing Santa (Black, White or Brown) this year. Since I’m still grieving the mom-sized hole in my heart, I’m not vacuuming, cooking or forcing my daughter to cry while I pay a minimum-wage elf to take her howling, sobbing photo.
Fact is, Grace just doesn’t like or care about Santa. Until she’s eager to sit on his lap and greedily demand all the dumb stuff kids think they can’t live without, which will only force us to create new traditions that don’t celebrate greed… until then, I won’t force her onto Santa’s still-warm-from-the-previous-hysterical-kid’s-lap… until next year.