Mennonno Sapiens

One Giant Leap For Mankind


I can’t remember ever really believing in Santa Claus.  It may be that my parents just didn’t sell it, but honestly it never added up to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved the twinkly Christmas lights and the jazz-era standards — the Nat King Cole records my father would break out and play for the few weeks leading up to Christmas Day (although I found Ed Ames, another of dad’s Christmas faves, creepy from an early age).

I loved the midnight mass with its candlelight and poinsettias.  The excitement of being allowed to be up well past my bedtime.  The magic of all of that was sufficient without throwing Santa in the mix.
I was a Santagnostic, I guess you’d say.  (I would even go with Santatheist, but I feel it’s needlessly inflammatory when the truth is I didn’t feel strongly one way or another about the old man.)
My formative memory of sitting on Santa’s lap — and I’m sure it is a composite — involved an obvious fraud at J.C. Penney.  He was tired and irritable, with a fake beard and bad breath.  Santa, the real Santa if indeed he existed at all (and, again, it was not all that important to me either way) would smell like Christmas candles and have breath like peppermint candy canes, not stale farts and filterless fags.
When I had my druthers, and my mother let me run off on my own (as parents inconceivably did in those days) I always visited the Talking Tree that stood like a sentinel outside Santa’s little shanty.
I fucking loved that Talking Tree.
It was a little like the one in The Wizard of Oz.  Basically a tree-shaped booth with some poor bored sod stationed inside, who blinked and winked and wiggled the tree’s limbs, and —  if you had the good fortune of not being accompanied by an adult — imparted all manner of snark through a microphone in a goofy voice whoever was inside imagined to be tree-like.

I am sure The J.C. Penney Talking Tree was the first to tell me flat-out that Santa didn’t exist.  (Adults were always pretty, um, frank with me when I was a kid.  I probably asked too many questions.  Like any good interrogator, eventually I wore them out and, again, checking for an adult and not finding one in ear-shot, they more often then not confessed the ugly truth to me.)

We view childhood — even, or especially our own — through a haze of sentimentality.  But I think most kids are much shrewder and more coolly rational than we give them credit for.  I never felt the need to express my skepticism about Santa, or reveal what The Talking Tree had told me.

Like most kids, I had gathered you believe what you have to believe and tell whomever you have to tell whatever you have to tell them to get what you want for Christmas.

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