Just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean you have to do it again, you know. We have some tree ornaments I don’t really like, but up they go every year.
You might want to rethink that Darth Vader ornament. Never quite understood that.
“Where should I hang this Dark Lord who oversaw the deaths of hundreds of millions of people?”
“I don’t care, but not next to Santa Mao or Father Stalin. Space them out.”
But then again, tradition! Like the Elf on a Shelf, which was somehow a tradition the first year it was sold. No one had thought about having an elf on the shelf, but suddenly you’re thinking “How did I miss this heartwarming tradition? Was there an animated special? Must buy Elf on Shelf.”
It’s possible it wasn’t a tradition at all. Several years ago at a board meeting for a company that tried to sell small humanoid figurines, the CEO said “Listen up. Sprite on a Kite didn’t sell. Don’t even ask about Imp on a Pimp. We have to think of something else. We have a million of these things in the warehouse.”
And thus a tradition was born, and now people put up a little tattletale in green felt who calls the home office to report on what you’re doing. “Alexa, open the secure channel to the North Pole.”
Here’s a tradition you might rethink: making the kids sit in Santa’s lap. In my favorite picture of Daughter on old Nick’s lap, she looks as if she is completely resigned to being eaten. I think she’s 4. “Well, it’s been a good life, but now I will be baked into a pie.”
Parents love the picture because, well, awwww. But for some children it’s a terrifying experience, and by some, I mean all. That’s because kids have scant context for this Santa thing. One day you’re playing at home and then your parents say you’re going to the mall to see a mystical, magical being with great powers who keeps track of your individual sins.
Because what do you know about this guy? He makes lists. He checks them. Twice. He is going to find out who’s naughty or nice.
This is basically a description of a KGB bureaucrat.
But he’s all smiles when you meet him at the mall. Why he’s at the mall, you’re not sure. Shouldn’t he be up at the North Pole, making sure everything’s ready for Christmas?
Then you get up on his lap, which might be alarmingly damp, and this whiskered thing leans in and asks you with a gust of Tic-Tac breath what you want.
“Don’t you know?” you ask. “You’re toting up my sins on a list, but you don’t know what my heart desires?”
“Remind Santa, won’t you? Ho ho ho!”
“But you’re omniscient. How can you not know?”
“Well, sweetie, St. Augustine explained the conflict between free will and God’s omniscience by saying that the Almighty denied Himself foreknowledge of your actions. We could have a theological confab, or you could cut to the part where you ask for a My Little Pony. Which one do you want? Sparkle Plenty? Twinkle Hoof? There’s 20 kids in line, sweetie. Let’s step it up here.”
Maybe I’m just remembering a Santa visit from my childhood. I’ve told this story here before, but I like to retell it from time to time, if only to get letters from keen-eyed readers who note the embellishments over the years. It goes like this:
Mom took me to see Santa at the gas station. Not his usual venue, you’d think, but this was my father’s new gas station, and if anyone could pull strings and get the Big Guy to make a celebrity appearance, it would be Dad.
There he was in the back office: whiskered, properly togged, ho-ho-ho’ing. Man, Dad was connected.
I sat in his lap and told him what I wanted, and he seemed to know what I was talking about. This Santa seemed like Super Father, a fictional iteration of my Dad come to life. It’s possible I actually saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus before we left.
Every year, I ask my Dad how he fused into Father-Santa in the chilly office of a Texaco station at the edge of town. Sharing that memory with him has become a little tradition I have with my dad, Ralph. Which reminds me of another tradition — but I’ll tell you about Ralph on the Shelf next year.