19 November 2009

in defense of an old geezer, dressed all in red

Please forgive me. I'm tired of writing about food. Don't worry, we're still eating it. I just feel uninspired by it at the moment. So please indulge me while I move on to other topics...

I feel like I should be writing in to "This I Believe" instead of posting this on my blog. But they'd never publish me anyway, so I'll have to settle.

I believe in Santa. Passionately, with a few reservations. With Christmas season upon us and few of us ready for it, I too am dismayed at the gobs and gobs of crap that started popping up in the stores even BEFORE Halloween's ghosts started haunting our doorsteps. Yes, the materialism of Christmas is sickening, and Santa has, and always will, be a part of that.

Yes, Santa is a part of Christmas that encourages a lot of the greedy "gimme gimmes" from good little girls and boys all over North America. And for this reason, or perhaps due to the cynicism of my generation, a lot of people I know with young kids are choosing to forgo the Santa myth, saying they don't want to lie to their kids. They'd rather craft their own family holiday traditions, and leave the materialism of a Coca Cola crafted Santa out of the picture. I get that, and I respect it. But I'm not choosing that for my kids.

why do I love Santa? Simple. He's magic. I love that giddy excitement he brings out in kids, that "I can't sleep, but I HAVE to sleep, oh HOW CAN I SLEEP when there could be a fat man in a red suit tiptoeing in to leave candy and presents for me in the next room?" craziness of Christmas Eve, that look of wonder, eyes wide when we talk about how reindeer can FLY, find nibbled carrots, cookie crumbs and an empty glass of milk (or bottle of beer) on Christmas morning. I love the reverence Jules has for the bearded guy as he walks up to him carrying a book for the two of them to read while I snap photos. I even love, sadistic as it sounds, the souvenir photos of my crying babies on Santa's lap. And I'm willing to bet that they'll love it, too.

I can tell you that I did not have the easiest childhood, but I did have Santa, and I will always be grateful for that. Santa got me through some pretty rough Christmases, otherwise marred by things like divorce, poverty, alcoholism and sometimes worse. And when I grew old enough to "know better," promoting the myth of Santa for my younger siblings was its own little bit of magic for me.

And now, having young kids of my own, the magic is back for me, full on. Before having kids, Johan and I had pretty much stopped celebrating Christmas. Sure, we bought a tree more years than not, I baked a batch of cookies every once in a while, we attended holiday company parties, went to friends' houses and drank gluhwein, and tried to inject as much holiday cheer as we could into our DINKy lives without, you know, going
overboard. So we bought a few presents for family members, but stopped giving gifts to each other, instead spending our money on one "big" item like a piece of furniture for our household, usually in February. Christmas was a much more sober affair for us. Kids changed all of that.

First, we found ourselves in the position of having to choose between Christmas traditions. In Belgium, Santa isn't much more than a hokey theme park-like character, dubbed
Kerstman (Christmas Man), who makes appearances in shopping malls and grown-up parties and such. Nobody believes he's real. All the kids get giddy over Sinterklaas instead, a more regal character who brings his presents on December 6, with the aid of his little black helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Right after Jules was born, we celebrated both Sinterklaas and Santa, but after attending a holiday party for Jules's Dutch preschool when he was just shy of two and seeing him shake with fear as all the black-face Zwarte Piets entered the room, I just didn't have the passion for promoting what's always been to me a blatantly racist stereotype that should have been ditched long ago.

I know many (maybe most) of Johan's friends and family think I'm my own version of Scrooge, since Zwarte Piet, despite his black-face, gold hoop earrings, big red lips, curly black afro and threats of stuffing naughty children in his sack and bringing them back to Santa's home in Spain (SPAIN? Really?!), is really jovial and sweet. But I just can't go there. And I'm probably being extremely hypocritical in this regard, since my own Santa and his origins are suspect as well. But there it is.

So bring on the toys, bring on the stockings, bring on the candy, cookies and sweets and treats. I choose my Santa, and con my kids into believing in him, and my Belgian partner into backing me up on it, even though it's foreign to him, and in the end, I inject (at least I hope I do) a little magic into all of our lives, just when we need it most in the bleakest days of winter. And for me, that's enough of a reason to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe now I'll go bake a cookie for the guy.


  1. If you haven't done this yet - you should! Logan loved it!!


  2. I love your direct and honest approach ;-) Hope your family had/has a nice time this holiday.


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