Many children's stories have a dark side, thinly disguised. Take the strange, eclectic legend of Santa Claus, for example. Who is he, anyway, and what's his bag?
The Christmas Eve my daughter Molly turned 3, I tried to get her to bed by reminding her that, unless she was fast asleep, Santa Claus wouldn't come. Finally I learned why my method was not working.
"I don't want that little man comin' down my chimney!" she declared emphatically.
Breaking and entering
Molly was afraid of Santy and was willing to sit by the fireplace all night, with her father's 30-aught-six if necessary, to keep him from violating our privacy. I spent the next hour convincing her that there is no such thing as Santa Claus, except as a storybook character, before she felt secure enough to fall asleep. I tried to explain that he personified the spirit of good will and generosity, but I'm not sure she went for it.
Many children refuse to sit on Santa's lap at the department store, instinctively realizing that the chocolate coin has a flip side. All that glitters isn't gold.
Santy the stalker
He knows if you've been sleeping, he knows if you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good - no wonder he's scary. And, even worse, he keeps a ledger, a naughty list, which he uses to extort obedient behavior from children. We would assume that Santa is high up in the National Security Agency, except for the fact that Santy is un-American.
It is useful to remember that Santa Claus is actually St. Nicholas, a 4th Century Christian bishop from what is now Turkey. A wealthy and kindhearted man, he was known for his goodness to the poor and vulnerable and was said to work miracles. He didn't like to take credit for his good deeds, so most of them were performed at night.
Santa Claus came to America with the early Dutch immigrants, back when New York City was still New Amsterdam. The Dutch Sinterclaas became Santa Claus.
During the 1920s, his address was established in Lapland, a place where his reindeer could graze. Luckily, though, his modern image - his look, so to speak - came from an early Coca Cola advertisement, so he is not all that foreign. We have changed his holiday from Dec. 6, the traditional feast day of St. Nicholas, to incorporate it with Christmas.
Santy carries baggage
My grandmother told me stories of St. Nicholas, how he saved two little boys who had been salted down and pickled like codfish by an evil old butcher. St. Nicholas the wonder worker.
Also, he threw gold in through the window of a house where three girls lived, because they were about to be sold into slavery for their debts. They had some stockings hanging up to dry by the fire, and some of the gold accidentally landed in the stockings. I bet he couldn't have done that again if he tried.
In some countries, the dreadful child pickler accompanies Santa, brandishing a switch and putting naughty children into a barrel. Yikes!
The gold Nicholas threw is symbolized by the orange found in the toe of the Christmas stocking. Some people mistakenly believe the traditional orange to be merely a comparatively cheap way to fill up the stocking, which is usually quite capacious, and, if knitted, will stretch like a string bag to include more trinkets than parents have on hand at midnight on Christmas Eve.
In Scandinavian legend, Santa's helpers are elves. Those who have read Grimm's fairy tales know that little people - elves, gnomes, dwarfs, fairies and what have you - are a treacherous lot.
Magical creatures in general are notoriously untrustworthy. Even the shoemaker's elves were vindictive. For every old house tomten there are 10 little people who are up to mischief. Name one, you say. OK, remember Rumpelstilzken? You gnome sympathizers will say you've never had any trouble with them. Well, you've been lucky. Watch your back.
The good side of Santy
After all is said and done, I do like Santa Claus.
I wouldn't want his job!
And you have to give our American Santa credit for ditching sleazy associates, like for example the child pickler. Traditionally, Saint Nick helps children and poor people, contributing to the true spirit of Christmas. I guess if I were keeping a naughty/nice ledger, I'd have to put him on the nice side.
I hope he's helping with your Christmas shopping. Have a good week.