(I’ve been asked, as a Christmas tradition, to re-post this story.)
When the kids were little — I think Jake was three and Luke was seven — Christmas felt like it was going to be slim. Make that downright anorexic. So I was looking for a way to bring a little fun into the season, something that wouldn’t cost much.
I had a brilliant idea. (I should come with a warning label: If brilliant idea occurs, step way-the-hell back for your own safety.)
Anyway. The idea was to have someone play Santa at our house for a pre-Christmas visit. We’d invite all the neighbor kids and their parents and each family would bring a gift for their child ahead of time. I’d hide the gifts away and squirrel them to our Santa, who would come in the house with lots of Ho Ho Hos and joy and jovial warmth and after regaling the kids with whatever it is Santas regale kids with, he’d give out the presents. There would be hot chocolate and apple cider, a beautifully lit Christmas tree in the background. Maybe even singing, if the kids wanted to sing. We would be so sappy, Hallmark would sue. Or throw up, but whatever, it was going to be great.
When I write it out like that, it sounds like a very nice day, doesn’t it? It really does seem normal and sane and I should have known that in my world, “normal” and “sane” do not apply.
It progressed innocently enough… I invited all of the neighbors, who loved the idea, especially since it was a fairly tight season for everyone. The “gifts” to the kids were held to a very low budget, so everything was fair and equal. There was a tree, decorations, lights, apple cider and hot chocolate, brownies, cookies, you name it for a sugar fix, someone was going to bring it. All I needed was a Santa.
Finding someone with a Santa suit wasn’t quite as easy as I had expected; most of the people who have them are booked for all of December, and it was two weeks before Christmas and looking a little bleak. And forget getting one of those guys for free. Like I was crazy for thinking this was the season of giving or something. Of course, the kids already knew that Santa was going to come to our house for our party, the specific date was set, so there was no going back at that point. (Could you look a bunch of 3 to 7 year olds in the face and tell them Santa wasn’t showing up? If so, here’s your application to Mercenaries-R-Us and Osama’s on line two.) So. Had to find a Santa. Was getting a little scared as the day approached and there was no Santa to be had.
Then a member of our family, who we still speak to even after this event, suggested a certain older friend-of-the-family. I had met this FOtF several times, and he’s a little… erm… warped. He is very very sweet, but also sort of odd, disjointed, but in a quasi-live-in-a-fog sort of way.Jovial, though, he had down pat. He had the rotund belly, the jolly round cheeks, the perfect Santa nose. The thing that worried me was that he was incredibly bashful. And when he did speak, he was extremely quiet. I couldn’t remember him putting together two whole sentences in a row, unless you call smiling and nodding a lot “sentences,” but at this point, I figured, what could it hurt?
Now, in retrospect, I understand why the heroine always goes down into the dark basement when she’s heard a noise, there’s a serial killer known to be in her neighborhood, someone who’d been stalking her and had keys made to her house, and yet she goes anyway, armed with only a pony-tail clasp and Malibu Barbie lipstick. She was thinking what could it hurt?
Our house was tiny, so the plan was for me to hide the bag of toys at our back door for Santa to grab, then he’d go around and come in the front door, where everyone was gathered in the living / dining room area. Tree lit? Check. Apple cider? Check. Hot chocolate? Check. Sugar high toddlers on the ceiling? Check. So many people packed in there, we were going to need pregnancy tests soon? Check.
But no Santa.
An hour goes by. The kids get higher and rowdier and the adults get fidgety and gossipy and God only knows how many families we managed to break up on that one night. Meanwhile, Jake (three) wandered off to the kitchen. I could see him (very very tiny house) from the dining room, when we heard a noise outside. A distinctive ‘HO HO HO” noise. At last.
Everyone turned expectantly toward the front door. I didn’t want Jake to miss this, so I ran into the kitchen to scoop him up, when suddenly, the back door BURST open with Jake not a foot away from it, and in bound Santa, HO HO HOing at the TOP OF HIS LUNGS, and RUNNING, people. RUNNING. There was NO ROOM TO RUN so Jake turned away from this screaming giant red monster and beelined it back to the living room, which meant he went OVER me, over a few other people standing in the way and did Santa stop? No, no he did not. Santa ran smack over me, over a few other innocent bystanders, and to top it off, the whole running time? He was throwing candy. Hard candy. And I don’t mean “lightly tossing it to the cute little four-year-old standing there with her jaw open in abject fear….” No. I mean hurling it, 95mph over the plate there, Babe, pinging parents, knocking out a couple of random elementary kids and everyone started dodging and diving for cover and did he STOP? No. No he did not. He kept whizzing that candy and HO HO HOing and running (now in circles in the living room) and kids were screaming, Jake was crying, Luke was hiding, I was still on the floor in total shock, and when he did stop, finally (I think Carl tripped him), he started with the presents. Not a single jolly word did this man speak. He pulled out presents, asked the kid’s name, and the really smart kids hid behind their parents, because he HURLED the gifts at their heads. Hurled. I’m not kidding you.
By this point, there was hot chocolate and apple cider everywhere, there were a couple of wet spots on the sofa I didn’t want to identify, most of the kids were wailing and trying to climb their nearest parent and on top of everything else, Santa had managed to drop one of the kid’s presents outside… though I had the presence of mind to realize what had happened and I had a stand-by gift ready (in case one of the parents forgot) and so that was solved. When he finished slinging the last present, did he SIT DOWN and calmly tell lovely stories to the kids to keep them from growing up to be SERIAL KILLERS?
No. No he did not.
He started up again with the running and HO HO HOing and throwing even MORE CANDY. You’d think the man was on a float and we were thirty feet away, and when he finally finished careening over a couple of kids who hadn’t been trampled on the first go-round, he sprinted to the back door and ran out into the night.
The back door slammed and the whole house hushed for a moment in stunned silence. Parents looked at me like I should be locked up, and those were the nice polite expressions, comparatively speaking. Then the shrieking began, and the confusion (toys had been dropped and stomped on by Santa on his way out) and there was just no way to rescue it. I’ve never seen a bunch of people leave a party faster in my life.
But I tell you what. Whenever someone would say to those kids, even years later, that they “better be good because Santa was watching”… man, they’d straighten right the hell up. And I don’t think a single one of them touched hard candy for years.
(Just to wrap up… I thought the Santa would have realized how badly things had gone, but the next time we saw him and his wife, he was back in bashful, quiet mode and his wife told us that he’d reportedly had an absolutely delightful time, that it had been one of the best Santa/parties he’d ever attended. And he sat there and smiled and nodded.)