Monday, November 26, 2007

No, Virginia, There Isn't . . .

By Sean Chercover

If you’re under the age of eight, you shouldn’t be reading this. Really. Go away, before I tell your mother. . .

Okay . . . now that the little tykes are gone, let’s talk about the non-existence of Santa. The Mouse is only 1, but my wife and I are planning ahead. And we’ve decided that, in our house, Santa Claus will be a game of make-believe. We’re not going to run a con job on the kid and convince him that Santa exists.

Martine (the aforementioned wife) grew up knowing that Santa Claus was pretend, and never felt short-changed. Being half-Norwegian, she actually got double the fun because, in addition to Santa, she and her folks also pretended that a diminutive troll named Julenisse (pictured to the right) was coming over to leave presents . . . as long as she put out a bowl of porridge for him.

The downside is that Julenisse is a spiteful little bastard, and if the Norwegian kiddies forget to leave him some porridge, he will make their crops fail and their cattle barren. Or worse.

In Norway, you do not screw with the nissen.

Here are some truly strange stories of bad behavior by Julenissen all over Norway.

Still, we should pity the little Christmas bastard, because he's being pushed aside by American cultural imperialism, and is turning into the Santa Claus, who is unbearably jolly and whose most interesting sin is leaving lumps of coal lying around.

But I digress…

The point is, you can have plenty of fun with Santa and Julenisse without actually believing in them.

Although I’m sure I enjoyed believing in Santa, my stronger memory is of the day I realized that he didn’t exist. The day I realized that there was a massive conspiracy to make me look like an idiot, and that my parents, my older sister, my grandparents, my teachers . . . the whole GODDAMNED SOCIETY WAS IN ON IT!!!!

In short, I’d been duped. I’d been a mark, a pigeon, a rube. They all knew and I didn’t. What a fool I’d been! What a sucker. And now that I’d finally wised up to the truth, I was expected to play along and help con the younger kids.

Well. I didn’t care much for that, and I’ve been pretty mum on the subject of Santa since then. When my sister had kids, I didn’t burst their bubble, but I didn’t play along with much enthusiasm. I was not the uncle who would say, “And what did Santa bring you this year?”

I remember one of my nieces saying, “Santa’s real, right Uncle Sean?” when she was about six. I don’t remember my answer, but it was probably something like, “How the hell would I know? I’ve never been to the North Pole.”

Anyway, when the time comes, Martine and I will introduce The Mouse to Santa Claus and Julenissen as a game of make-believe.

You might be surprised how intense the negative reaction has been, from some quarters. We certainly were.

Some folks insist that we will be robbing our son of one of the greatest wonders of childhood. Maybe, but we’ll also be sparing him one of the greatest disappointments of childhood.

The only real downside I can see is that The Mouse will be that kid in the schoolyard who says, “Santa is just pretend,” and the other kids will run home crying and the other parents will hate our guts.

I think I can live with that.

Oh, and just in case you're not yet convinced that the entire country of Norway is on drugs, check out this Christmas video:


Rachel said...

I don't get why people get such pleasure about lying to kids about Santa Claus. I grew up Jewish, so I always knew there was no such thing. And yes, I did enlighten my grade-school classmates...after having Christmas shoved down my throat for a month in school.

I do remember finding out that there wasn't a Tooth Fairy and having those same feelings of embarrassment and anger as you describe. When you're small and powerless, it does feel like adding on to have adults telling you tales that they know are false.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

The other day my four-year-old saw some toy in a catalog or something and he said, "Daddy, can Santa buy this for me?"

I was like, "Wow, he's pretty much got it exactly right."

Sara Paretsky said...

Sean, it's funny to me that you call your kid The Mouse, because in my family, Mouse was the creature who brought us our nicest presents, whether at Chanukah or for our birthdays. Mouse hid a chocolate kiss for each of us before we went to bed; finding our "mouse hide" was the last act of the day, and sent us to bed more sweetly. And my mother always baked a gingerbread "Mouse house" at Chanukah. We knew in one way that our mother was the Mouse's vicar, but the pleasure of Mouse, and perhaps of Santa, is the faith in a benign being. Mother could be scary--I think probably all parents can be scary to small people--they get angry or disappear, and we have so little power to appease them or make them return. But Mouse is utterly reliable. To this day. I have some little gifts Mouse has given me to send to my nieces, and I can't wait for the 8th day to see what Mouse has brought me.

I'm sad that my gentile family by marriage goes for Santa, big scary man dropping in uninvited in your living room, instead of the shy quiet Mouse. As Alice Walker once wrote, she and her siblings screamed when they saw Santa, and were told he'd come down there chimney. I can't remember her exact words, but they were along the lines of, "How would a white suburban family react if they were told a large black man was going to show up ininvited in their house?" Ho, ho, and ho.

Darwyn Jones said...

Sean, I was the last of nine children. It seems like I've known since my first breath

a) there is no Santa Claus
b) where babies come from
c) the art of blackmail.

Knowledge is power.

Libby Hellmann said...

What a wonderfully devilish post, Sean! And Sara, I love your version of the Mouse... my kids had the "Hanukkah Man" who arrived in a swanky car -- no silly sleds for him -- and showered them with gifts and gelt... but only one every night. Didn't take them long to realize it was too much of a bother for anyone to come to every Jewish kid's house 8 nights in a row.

JD Rhoades said...

"How would a white suburban family react if they were told a large black man was going to show up ininvited in their house?"

Before elves and eight tiny reindeer, St. Nicholas had a much more menacing assistant. Named Black Peter, this companion was the physical opposite of St. Nicholas. Tall and gaunt with a dark beard and hair, Black Peter was associated with the punitive side of Christmas. Traditionally St. Nicholas would hand out presents to good children, while it fell to Black Peter to dole out coal (and sometimes knocks on the head) to children who misbehaved.

Black Peter, or Zwarte Piet in Dutch, began in Holland in the 15th century. His dark appearance is supposed to suggest a Spaniard, a reflection of Spain's occupation of the Netherlands at the time. Black Peter was also associated with pirates, a common threat to naughty Dutch children was that he would take them to a pirate's hide out and beat them. He was often represented holding a large stick for this purpose. The large bag that he held was rumored to be used for stuffing children in for the trip back to Spain.

JD Rhoades said...

I'm with you on this one, Sean, becuase I had a similar disillusioning experience when I found out Santa was all a myth, and no amount of "Yes Virginia," was going to make me feel any better.

spyscribbler said...

I was an only child, and I caught on pretty quickly that my job was to be happy enough for me, my mom, and my dad on that day. After the torture of opening presents while they watched my every expression, I'd always have a headache from forcing the widest smile I could on my face.

Hard life, I know. But still, I knew Santa had nothing to do with that!

Jude Hardin said...

I think you're doing the right thing, Sean.

Pretend is fun for everyone. Ultimately, lies are only fun for the liars.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I'm still pretending that there is a Santa. And his fat ass better bring me a bunch of hot wheels and that really cool batman action figure.

Of course having the nice Jordan (Ruth) playing x-mas elf makes the whole season worth while.

I'm living in a winter wonderland.

JA Konrath said...

My wife and I never told our youngest about Santa. We just didn't feel right lying to him. Plus, I'll be damned if some old fat elf gets credit for the stuff I worked my ass off to buy.

I recently asked my son (now 10) if it bothered him that we never had Santa in our house. He candidly replied, "As long as I got presents, I didn't care where they came from."

Jen Jordan said...

The lack of a Santa did explain to me why I never got the chemistry set I wanted.

And it explains why the house is still standing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sean,

You weren't kidding about that Christmas video.

Those are the ugliest sweaters I've ever seen. And I'm from Wisconsin.

Best, Mary Harris

Sean Chercover said...

Mary - I didn't even notice the sweaters, I was so freaked out by the Norwegian Bad Acid Trip Christmas Fantasy.

A Merry-Merry and a Happy-Happy to all...