I remember the exact moment I realized Santa wasn’t real.
Really, it wasn’t a single moment so much as a realization that steamed and frothed and finally boiled over one Christmas eve. Things hadn’t been adding up for a while. Why were my parents so insistent that we get to bed before Santa comes? How, for that matter, did Santa have time to visit everyone? What was up with the subtle smirk on their faces when they talked about this now-that-you-mention-it-very-improbable-sounding man?
Five-year-old me orders another scotch from the bored-looking bartender who knows better by now than to tell me I’ve had enough.
“So you’ve got a beef with the Red Man.”
No, Frankie. I’ve got no beef with no one except that damned fairy, two-toothed Tina, and we all know why that is.
The Red Man just doesn’t make sense. Why are there so many of him? Yeah, sure, brothers, cousins, I get it, I’ve heard the stories. But one in every mall? How big is his family? Why are they all alcoholics? Why are his favorite cookies dad’s favorite cookies too? And what did I see that night, when I snuck downstairs and peered through the slats in the banister? What were the parents doing?
“Maybe they were fucking,” Frankie offers.
“No, Frankie. They weren’t fucking.” I take a drag of my neglected cigarette. “They were wrapping presents. Santa presents.”
Frankie nods like she knows, and maybe she does.
The next day I finally asked dad point blank if he was Santa. He denied it up and down, which was the clearest confirmation you could hope for. Dad’s always been a terrible liar, and this lie he sold with all the vehemence and credibility of a kid with his hand not just caught but actually stuck in the cookie jar.
Of course, I told my sister at once. I understand now that this is a violation of the Covenant, in which God promised to never again drown the entire world as long as we all agreed to tell one oddly specific and frankly peculiar lie to our children.
“But why, God?”
“It’s not about the story,” He replied, uncharacteristically. “The story could be anything. It’s about giving them something to believe in.”
“So they can learn the shape of true faith and eventually come to worship you?”
“Oh. No, that... doesn’t really work. No, it’s about the moment when they losethat faith. That moment...” He paused, I suppose to work out how to pack a deep cosmic truth into a profoundly inadequate brain.
“That moment is delicious,” He said.
Anyway, nobody told me. My parents did not sit me down and give me some “okay, you figured it out, now here’s the deal:” talk. So what would you do? When you’re five, Santa is a a pretty big deal. Hell, even now, Santa is most likely the biggest goddamn conspiracy you have ever unraveled in your entire life. A cover up engineered by NASA, the DoD, numerous multinational corporations, the President of the United States, the Presidents of Various Other Places, and every person above the age of ten. This is God tier. Q-Anon level. 9/11 truthers have nothing on Santa, and frankly, the existence (or, rather, generally accepted and simultaneously denied non-existence) of Santa gives credence to the wildest of those theories, which are nearly plausible by comparison.
“Just think of how many people would have to be in on it. The workers who planted the explosives. People who worked on the weakened floors. Basically every structural engineer except for that one guy all the truthers quote and who is not, in fact, a structural engineer. Not to mention everyone who planned it! And anyone they told, or who suspected—partners, family members, therapists. You’re talking about hundreds, maybe thousands of people.”
“Okay. But Santa.”
And who could argue? We were all duped by the biggest con around, and then we all signed up to keep it going, like a pyramid scheme, or chicken pox, or the cycle of abuse.
Officially, we perpetuate the Santa thing because it gives kids “a sense of Christmas magic,” or some variation. Of course this is bullshit. Have you met kids? Do you remember being a kid? Kids do not need adults’ help in creating magical worlds or imaginary friends. When I was a kid, one of my best friends was a friendly monster slash nature spirit named Gorp, who lived in slash was our compost heap. I looked at a hay-covered compost heap and summoned a spirit in it, because I was four and that’s what you do when you’re four, and what some of us never stop doing.
No, Santa is for us. For adults. We give kids Santa because... well, significantly, because of social pressure, which is an important transmission vector of the Santa memetic contagion. If you spill the beans, nearly everyone over the age of 18 will tell you that you’re a terrible person. Contrast hanging a confederate flag from your window, which has a 60% disapproval rating at best.
But apart from that, we do Santa because it gives us power over kids imaginary worlds. You might often feel smugly superior to the kids around you, but even the most insufferably adult adult has to admit that they have pretty much zero idea what’s going on in the world of kids most of the time. But with Santa, we give them an imaginary friend that we can control—and, importantly, eventually kill. Yes, Santa has to die. Santa was born to die. The sacrifice of Santa is an important rite of passage. It is the adult world tugging at a thread and unraveling a child’s entire world. If Santa isn’t real, what about faeries? Invisible friends? Mermaids and monster? The whispering trees and the amorphous, talking compost heaps? And in this way, all those thing are made to fall from the world. We lose faith. And that moment? Is delicious.
But perhaps that’s unkind. It’s not just that we want to kill Santa. We also love him. We love that for a few years, we have access to childhood magic again, even if it’s diluted with a wink and a smirk and the lingering taste of fig in our mouths.
I’m saying “we,” but I don’t derive particular joy from Santa. I don’t like lying to my niece and nephew. I don’t like feeling like I’m in on a con. I don’t like knowing that I’m giving them a solid reason to distrust me.
But neither would I take pleasure in killing the jolly old man—if I even could. The Santa industrial complex is powerful, its collaborators many. Forget the teachers, forget the parents, forget my sister’s inevitable death glare if I gave up the Santa. Forget the other kids. Every TV show—and I mean literally everything they’ve watched in the last week—has either been a story about how Santa Needs Help or about how Some Villain Hates Christmas And Tries To End It, And, Obviously, Fails. The wound of this failure is then salted by the arrival of Santa, which doesn’t even upset Some Villain, because somewhere along the way they discovered the True Meaning Of blah blah blah
It’s monotonous, even more monotonous than kids TV usually is, and it was while I was trapped in this Santa onslaught thinking these unfestive thoughts that I realized it:
I’m the grinch.
Which is perhaps second-most powerful self realization I have ever had. I thought the thought, and immediately, I was free.
I don’t like Christmas. I don’t have to like Christmas! It is a completely reasonable thing to not like Christmas. Other people don’t like Christmas! Like people who have regrettably had family members die. And people who have regrettably not yet had certain family members die. Also numerous Jews who seem mostly to wish, as I do, that the festival didn’t consume two whole months.
But I am a tolerant woman, and I do not require the entire world to conform wholly to my whims immediately (just most of it, significantly, and quickly). And there are parts of Christmas I quite like. The lights and trees are lovely. The giant presents are cute for about a day. The songs are miserable almost immediately, but I have headphones, and I don’t mind using them. I don’t need to ruin anyone else’s desperate attempt to stave of suicidal ideation in the cold clutches of winter by spending excessive amounts of time with extended family members they loathe. I’m not going to burn down the Rockefeller tree. I’m not going to sell a kidney to fund a personal war on Christmas.
I will, however, get a Grinch onesie. If I am going to be miserable, I am going to be cute about it.
And then there’s the Red Man. What to do about him?
He’s too powerful to go up against directly. You come at the king, you best not miss. His hold on this house is still too strong. It would get bloody. There would be screaming. Counting to five. This year, I stayed firmly neutral on the Santa question. I did not bring up Santa unless Santa was brought up to me. When my niece pounced on my bed on Christmas morning, squealing “Auntashi Auntashi! Santa came!”, my reply was equivocal. “Oh really? I wonder when that happened.” I do not personify Santa. When some day I am asked The Question point blank, I will not lie.
Against the Red Man, you play the long game. You plant seeds. You wait.
I’m not saying one way or another. Not today. Too many ears open today. Too many things you’re not ready to hear.
There’s powerful forces at work here. More going on than you realize. But when you’re ready, really ready, to hear the truth...
...the truth about Santa...
You come. You find me. Look for me at La Cave.
I’ll be in green.