It’s not me, it’s you. I think you’re a wonderful man, but I think we need some space. Please feel free to visit once a year and leave me whatever I ask for. Also, if you don’t mind, please use the front door (and the doorbell, and how about we make the visit around noon or anytime before midnight). Say hello to Rudolph and Blitzen.
Had I been able to hold a crayon correctly at the age of 2, I probably would have written this exact letter (and had my sister deliver it while I stood far enough away to feel that I could safely escape if Santa or his elves made a move toward me). I was that scared. I was the proverbial reindeer in the headlights during my yearly trek to visit Santa. I would cry like the world was coming to an end. I didn’t want to have any part of it. When my mother placed me on this rather large, white-haired, STRANGER, it seemed to me that she had lost her mind. Three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, she was a protective force, surrounding me with love and understanding, and then one day a year she is handing me over to a man she calls “Mr. Claus” (which I heard as “Mr. Claws”) and abandoning me as I burst into the most heartfelt tears that a 2-year-old has ever cried.
Of course on the other side of his lap is my sister, happy as a clam, looking like she was lounging on a beach chair in Cancun. I loved the presents; I just didn’t like what you had to go through to get them. And it wasn’t just Santa Claus that was scary; it was the Burgermeister and the Roast Beast, Jimmy Stewart screaming at Donna Reed, Reindeer bullies and Snowmen coming back to life. The list goes on and on. It’s my fervent belief that if you are age 35 and up, you were part of a generation that was bombarded with some of the most bizarre television images the free world has ever seen. H.R. Puffinstuff. Witchy Poo. Watergate. So on and so forth. And the holiday Christmas specials were no exception.
In my day, Christmas really seemed to start with the first glimpse of Bing Crosby. There he was, smoking a pipe, wearing a Santa hat, his eerily young, braces-wearing children and his perfectly coifed wife, cheerfully singing holiday tunes on his yearly special. I read somewhere that his children from his first marriage were running the cameras, seating people in the studio, and fetching cigarettes for guest stars like Sammy Davis Jr., and Nancy Sinatra. It was all very heartwarming. However, just like sitting on Santa’s lap, sometimes when you’re young (and not my sister), Christmas can be a tad bit terrifying. Nancy Sinatra was not going to come and comfort you when you found yourself wide awake on Christmas Eve (and how weird would that be anyway, to have Nancy Sinatra walk into your room at 3 in the morning wearing go-go boots and telling you to close your eyes) panicked at the thought of Santa finding out you’re not asleep and passing your house up for a home full of really good non-insomniac children. Sammy Davis Jr. couldn’t personally assure you that a letter you sent to the North Pole 3 months earlier would actually get there on time. And what if I spelled something wrong in my letter and got something I didn’t want?? Like pink fuzzy horseshoes? What if I was misled by Ron-Co about the true usefulness of a Rock Tumbler? (And let me say this, a rock tumbler is just as loud as you might think it would be.) I didn’t know if I was the only one that thought of these things or if all the kids that I saw during the days before Christmas were developing ulcers as well. We could have used Rolaids-flavored candy canes back then, or perhaps someone should have invented Children’s Rummy Tum Tums. I mean seriously, 12 reindeer on a rooftop? That had to be some type of zoning issue.
I guess I had the hardest time with the kids’ Christmas specials on television. The Crosby shows and the Bob Hope extravaganzas were for the adults. And yes, they were definitely bizarre, but nothing like what they geared towards the kids. Let’s take a look, shall we…
Santa Claus is Coming to Town – An abandoned baby Santa, left in the forest to be raised by a family with names like “Dingle” and “Wingle.” The Burgermeister Meisterburger and his order to stop making toys (was there really legislation on this somewhere??), Santa in a mug shot. A Winter Warlock who melts down into a tiny feeble, little man. And to cap it all off, a wooded area where trees can grab you. (This had happened twice now, once in the Wizard of Oz, and now this, I was therefore convinced that tree-grabbing was a real possibility.)
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – Poor little Rudolph having to wear mud on his nose. Playground bullying. A young man named Herbie who is always getting yelled at. A tremendously cranky Santa. Some type of large snow monster with cavity issues. Union problems among the elves. An island of misfit toys (run by a LION). And last but not least, Herbie and Rudolph are informed that they aren’t even welcome on an island specifically geared for misfits, and this is a place that has already welcomed a train with square wheels and a spooky Jack in the Box that I’m sure I saw on the Twilight Zone once.
Frosty the Snowman – He melts, he comes back, he melts, he comes back. Case closed. I can’t even explain how much this one disturbed me.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – First off, I had to get over the fear that this might possibly happen. Could a green stringy beast show up in our living room on Christmas Eve and steal everything we have, including our ice cubes? No, that wasn’t worrisome at all. I did enjoy the cute little Who’s down in Whoville, they were adorable of course, but I also knew if one walked into my house and started singing I would probably scream for a good 20 hours non-stop. I felt sorry for Max, the Grinch’s cute little doggy, having to wear those heavy reindeer antlers and do all that heavy lifting. And by the way, what the heck did “Ta-who bor-ray” mean anyway?
A Charlie Brown Christmas – Logically I knew that a dog couldn’t win a decorating contest; that psychiatric counseling cost more than a nickel (believe me, I know). And last but not least, children didn’t really dance like the Peanuts gang (which would have been nice to know BEFORE I went to my first dance in Jr. High).
I really don’t know what new and improved Christmas shows are offered to children these days. I imagine it’s something much scarier. Justin Beiber as Ebenezer Scrooge in, “It’s A Christmas Carol, Yo.” I’ll take the Bergermeister any day. At least he had better hair.
Having said all of this, even now, when I hear the beginning of The Grinch, or see Fred Astaire in a mailman uniform, I become a little bit happier. I will always stop and watch every one of these programs and smile, sing along and joyfully embrace every goofy little aspect. They were a part of my life, my childhood, and they became a part of my son’s childhood. I hope it continues. Did they sometimes scare me? Yes. Was I the only one? I hope not. And so it goes.
I would be remiss if I ended this article any other way than with the greatest Christmas story there is. I’m talking about THE Christmas story of course. Charles Schulz, being the genius that he was, introduced children everywhere to the true meaning of the holidays in the simplest way possible, through the voice of a child, on a darkened stage. After being bombarded with talking elves and singing snowmen, this little cartoon would always bring everything into perspective, and it will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come. So if I may, in the words of the eternally wise Linus Van Pelt, “lights please.”
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
And that my friends, is the greatest
Christmas story of all.