My dear friend hosted a Secret Santa gathering on Sunday, and I marveled at the genius of such a party: parents wrapped a gift for their kid(s) and managed to sneak it into the garbage bag, hiding in the bushes, when they arrived. Families then proceeded to enjoy milk & cookies (or wine & beer) while awaiting the (surprise) arrival of a darling, classic old Santa to give each child his or her present (from the said garbage bag). It was brilliant.
Santa arrived right on time, in full regalia: a big white beard, a soft red coat with white cuffs, wire-rimmed spectacles, and shiny black boots. What he lacked in hearty Ho Ho Ho’s, he made up for in jingle bells and pictures of the North Pole on his ipad, which he entertained the kids with upon arrival (talk about a modern Santa!). Each child waited patiently for Santa to call their name, get their gift, and take a picture on Santa’s lap.
Though Josh and I attended, with both kids in tow, we watched the merriment from behind the parents of older kids. We skipped the gifts for Dylan & Oscar this year, since they still have no concept of Christmas, but we did opt in for the family photo with Santa. That’s right: our very first awkward family photo.
Actually, it’s more heartbreaking than awkward, since it’s Dylan’s fear of Santa that makes the photo so, well, funny. And at the same time, it feels like there’s something timeless about the pose. I mean, how many pics have I already seen – this week alone – of friends’ kids freaking out on Santa’s lap? Which got me thinking…how does this looming, imposing embodiment of the Christmas Spirit go from being a sight of terror to a beloved icon? It must be social conditioning, right? We must, collectively, teach our children that the man in the big red suit brings joy, not fear.
But in truth, there is something kind of creepy about the live version of him…he reminded me of being in A Christmas Carol when I was about ten years old. I was only a kid in the Chorus – I didn’t even have a speaking role – but I loved the pageantry of the winter play and the feeling of being a part of something. I also loved the secrecy of backstage: I loved the whispering and the tip-toeing, the darkness and the preciseness of it all.
But I feared the Ghost of Christmas Past (who dressed like an old man) & the Ghost of Christmas Present (who dressed sort of like Santa Clause, only in a blue robe with a wreath on his head), and the Ghost of Christmas Future most of all (after all, he wore the garb of the grim reaper and towered above me on stilts). I knew this was a play; I was old enough to separate reality from playacting, but those Ghost characters scared me beyond the stage. There was something disturbing about their grandeur. Perhaps it was because they, like Santa, were supposed to contain a magical quality, and I grew suspect of their other-worldliness. Or maybe it was because they so expertly embodied a Ghost on stage (in the humble opinion of a 4th grader…), and, as they attempted to unravel their role once the play was over, I didn’t buy it. Either you were going to be magical and ghostly, or you weren’t. You can’t be both. I couldn’t separate the actor from their character, and I remember not knowing how to talk to the men who played the “Ghosts” at cast parties or in dress rehearsals.
I had a similar experience on Sunday. I smiled and nodded at Santa, but I didn’t know how to talk to him (or if I should). It didn’t help that I knew his real name was “Randy” and that my friend had hired him through a Google Search. I knew those black boots he was sporting did double duty during the summer months when “Santa Randy” worked construction, but still, I was wary of him. In hindsight, it’s no wonder Dylan was scared – we didn’t approach this Santa like anyone else we’ve ever introduced him to. We didn’t give Santa a hug or shake his hand or have a little conversation with him first. We actually treated Santa more like a mechanical prop in a department store window – tip-toeing around him, squatting down to pose near him, and then inching away quietly. As parents, we certainly weren’t encouraging a sense of security, which was another reality check in the “power of parenting” category. Oh yeah, we’re influential in shaping our children’s worldviews, and they will pick up on our fears, like a dog on the hunt. Therefore, despite my own childhood fears that (obviously) continue to linger, I’ve realized I have to get better at hiding them. Then, maybe, one of these years, we’ll get a picture of Santa with two smiling kids.