WAS THAT REALLY SANTA CLAUS?
I am reminded of many memorable Christmas holidays. During my early years, in the 1920’s, I had an interesting test of my faith in Santa Claus.
Mother and Dad went to extraordinary lengths to preserve the Santa Claus image. One Christmas my two younger sisters and I were wavering on Santa. Dad set the scene for Santa’s entrance. In the kitchen, where the old wood-burning stove formerly sat, we now had a gas stove with a high oven on one side.
Over the top of the oven was a cap on the chimney flue. While we slept, Dad took the cap out and spilled soot on top of the oven and on the burners of the cook-top, and in some boot-tracks on the floor. At least once a week Mother scrubbed the kitchen floor and put down newspapers to keep it clean for a few more hours. Here, Santa had tracked chimney mess all across the kitchen floor, into the dining room, which was the largest room in the house. It was the location of our Christmas tree, decorated with candles that were mounted in saucer-like snap brackets. We had to trim away any branches too close to the candle flames and keep a bucket of water handy.
In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I argued that this whole Santa thing was ridiculous. The clincher for me was that Santa had left gifts for all of us…in the throes of the Great Depression?
During the following year, my sisters and I lost faith again. The next Christmas, Mother and Dad pulled all the stops out to save our belief in Santa. The problem was I knew Santa had me in his book as the villain of the family. I was just a tad worried. This had been a bad year for our family because the Great Depression was getting worse.
The closer we got to Christmas, the more my sisters would blame me for all the trouble we were having. Christmas Eve was very frugal. We didn’t expect to get anything. After a big day of baking cookies and preparing lunch for Santa, we were being given the usual “get to bed early” admonition. . Just at the very moment we were going up the stairs, we heard the noise of a ladder rattling on the eaves of the roof over the kitchen! The very same roof Santa used last year!
When we were dressed in our sleeping togs, there came a loud knocking on the front door. Dad answered and then told me Santa wanted to see me. I anxiously went to the door. Santa asked for my name. I was sizing him up pretty good, as my first impression was that this guy was a lot thinner than I had been led to believe. Santa then said, “My elves have reported to me that you don’t believe in me anymore, and had been trying to convince your sisters that I don’t exist.” Furthermore, he pulled out a notebook and read my poor record from it.
Unfortunately, he really had the goods on me. He told me, “You have been a very, very bad boy, and will receive nothing from me…. except one thing for your stocking…. a small lump of coal.”
I stood there in utter disbelief and felt chagrined when he asked to see my sisters! When they went to see him, Santa gushed compliments all over them. He added that he would try to make a better boy of me. He then gave them candy, nuts, and fruit. Santa also told them, “I had been such a bad boy that he couldn’t even come back again all that night.”
Now, I was TOTALLY responsible for our family’s bad Christmas!
Once again we heard the rattle of a ladder on the roof. We could imagine Santa getting into his sleigh and taking our gifts, and tossing them into his bag, for our least loved friends.
The next morning, we could scarcely believe it. Santa had come after all! Everyone received what he or she wanted, and he had even eaten the lunch we prepared for him. It was our best Christmas ever!!
Sometime later when I was older, I learned that Dad engineered this whole program, with an assist from a neighbor (one not too familiar to us). Dad and Mom also had the cooperation of Household Finance, as they had mortgaged our furniture in order to provide us with our last glorious Christmas as Santa believers.
Ironically, this was the economic bottom for our family, and our absolute pinnacle of faith.