Do you know what I’ve discovered? I have issues with Santa—have had them ever since I became cognizant of his existence. In fact, I hate him! As I was editing my first Christmas remembrance in my book, Monsters’ Throwdown (due to be released next week just in time for Christmas), it brought back painful memories of my attempts to get white Santa’s attention to stop by my poorer-than-dirt ghetto house and leave me a present or two as a poor-black-child. I wrote letters, I said prayers, and I set out cookies and milk, but still no Santa (now that I am an adult, I have a strong suspicion that the rats who were as big as cats ate Santa’s snacks). Once I started encountering Jews and discovered they got no visits from Santa either—whether they had been good as could be or not—I knew that fat white dude in the red suit made us all feel pretty much like pond scum by not showing up with presents for us.
Used by permission: David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star
As I got older, I realized Santa’s lack of shimmying down certain chimneys had more to do with economic inequality on my part and religious preference in the lives of my Jewish neighbors; although later I would discover that a few of my Jewish friends had Christmas trees along with their Menorahs, and Santa had made a deal with their parents to drop by on Christmas Eve just like he did at the homes of some of the Christians. Talk about having one’s mind blown.
I pretty much forgot about the likes of Santa until I had my own children. We moved to Israel when my older child was two months old and our younger child was born there. I was having enough trouble helping them understand the difference between Israel’s “Kippi Ben Kippod” from “Rechov Sumsum (an Israeli coproduction of Sesame Street)” and America’s Big Bird from Sesame Street. Teaching my children about a Santa who didn’t bring the other neighborhood children presents wasn’t worth it. Plus, it never occurred to me to teach them about the fantasy of Santa given my history with the dude, although our neighbors did help us find a fir tree from a kibbutz in Galilee so that we would feel more at home on Christmas Day since they knew it was a religious holiday for us. By American standards, it was probably one of the ugliest trees one could possibly imagine—decorated with strings of popcorn, cranberries, and ringlets of colored paper. But to us it was magnificent because it was provided by our Israeli neighbors who all came down to our apartment to “ooh and ah” at it. All of my neighbors went out of their way to wish us “Merry Christmas” and we wished them Happy Chanukah at the appropriate time during all the years I lived there. (Did I ever mention how my Israeli neighbors were the salt of the Earth and always made me feel very welcomed as an ex-pat?)
Then one year we came back to the States for Christmas vacation and my older child was sitting on my mother-in-law’s lap while her grandmother was reading my child a story about Santa Claus. “Who is this?” asked my mother-in-law as she pointed to a picture of Santa. The more my baby looked at the picture in total confusion, the angrier my mother-in-law became in demanding a definitive Santa recognition. Finally, my three-year-old broke out into a heartbroken sob out of fear and confusion because she felt she was making her grandmother, whom she was seeing for the first time, very angry about her failure to identify a fat man in a red suit with an enormous beard. As I ran to rescue my baby from this stupid emotional quagmire, my mother-in-law turned beet-red and went ballistic: “I CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO FIND THE WORDS TO TELL YOU HOW MUCH THIS DISTURBS ME THAT YOU’VE NOT TAUGHT THIS CHILD ABOUT SANTA CLAUS!” As I ran from the room cradling my frightened baby, I shouted: “Ask her who Pippi Ben Kippod is—then maybe she’ll pass your stupid fantasy-man test.” When we returned to my beloved Israel, I got an envelope from my mother-in-law containing only an Ann Lander’s column titled: “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!” (Did I ever tell you that I suspect my mother-in-law always hated me, and her words had the ability to make people feel like crap—no matter what the age?)
My grandson (the child of the daughter that my now dead MIL terrorized about the recognition of Santa), went to see Santa the other day. Apparently, it did not go well. He refused to sit on the dude’s lap and pretty much lost it when he was coerced into coming within 20 feet of the fat man in the red suit. Later that evening during our phone call, I asked him why he didn’t want to get next to Santa and tell him what he wanted for Christmas. My five-year-old grandson astutely said: “I didn’t like him—I didn’t like the way he made me feel—he made me feel all waggy and crunchy inside. Anyway, Santa don’t bring me presents, Mommy, Daddy, Mama-Mama, Mema, and Grandpa brings me presents on Christmas!” (Did I ever tell you that children have the ability to make us feel very clear-headed by their assessment of life, if we carefully listen?) I’m sure my mother-in-law was turning over in her grave when she heard him say what he did about dear ol’ St. Nick.
As I was pondering whether the dislike of Santa could be passed down through a person’s DNA, I heard about three news stories concerning words:
Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin Uncovering War on Christmas—“Americans saying happy holiday tantamount to disowning Jesus—ram Merry Christmas down their throats in the name of Jesus!”
Pope Francis releases his “The Joy of the Gospel” and chastises the world “not to forsake the poor”—his words are challenging and riveting
Nelson Mandela dies at 95—his collective words and actions humble us and make us want to do better with our lives
Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin’s caustic words (they both have criticized our new Pope for being a socialist and a Marxist) made me feel all “waggy and crunchy” inside and made me want to cry, but the words by Pope Francis and the legacy of words left behind by Nelson Mandela made me feel so good, that all I could do was go out into the street and wish everyone I saw, “Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, and Merry Christmas with all my heart!” When I saw the joy in the eyes of the people I had greeted, I knew that I had touched them with the true spirit of Christmas, and I felt really good, because I could tell I had made them feel good with my generosity of heart as well.
Used by permission: Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
I am discovering that Maya Angelou was correct: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark.”—Dick Gregory
“Believe in love. Believe in magic. Hell, believe in Santa Claus. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. If you don’t, who will?”—Jon Bon Jovi
“Our family was too strange and weird for even Santa Claus to come visit… Santa, who was jolly – but, let’s face it, he was also very judgmental.”—Julia Sweeney
“You know, in a way, ‘Dear Santa Claus’ is rather stuffy… Perhaps something a little more intimate would be better… Something just a shade more friendly….How about ‘Dear Fatty’?”― Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960
IN REMEMBRANCE OF MADIBA
Your heart of forgiveness, your words of grace, and your brotherly love will be greatly missed. You made us all feel that we could live better lives if we tried.
RIP NELSON MANDELA
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