Friday, December 11, 2009

Too Soon For Santa?

M. is in the Social Club at her work, and has been roped into organising the Christmas Party for the employees' children this weekend. Last night I was asked if I could be Santa Claus.

I like kids well enough. But I'm not ready to be Santa Claus. I'm too young. I don't even have kids of my own. It'd take a lot of artificial beefing up to reach the generally accepted Santa girth, and even then, I'd fool only the youngest and most gullible of children. Which is, I think, the problem.

I can take the beard-tugging and name-calling of seven-year-olds who know most "Santas" are fake yet still believe the Jolly Old St. Nick delivers their presents on Christmas Eve.

[Aside: I wonder if kids around that age Google: "Does Santa Exist?" What would they learn… Thankfully WikiAnswers replies: "Of course he does". Faith in internet: restored!]

But I don't want to take advantage of the default belief little kids have in what adults tell them.

I found this reasoning hard to explain, but then today I read David Foster Wallace's 'All That' in this week's New Yorker. It doesn't say, but I assume this is an excerpt from the forthcoming, posthumous novel, The Pale King.

Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:

The “magic” was that, unbeknown to me, as I happily pulled the cement mixer behind me, the mixer’s main cylinder or drum—the thing that, in a real cement mixer, mixes the cement; I do not know the actual word for it—rotated, went around and around on its horizontal axis, just as the drum on a real cement mixer does. It did this, my mother said, only when the mixer was being pulled by me and only, she stressed, when I wasn’t looking. She insisted on this part, and my father later backed her up: the magic was not just that the drum of a solid wood object without batteries rotated but that it did so only when unobserved, stopping whenever observed. If, while pulling, I turned to look, my parents sombrely maintained, the drum magically ceased its rotation. How was this? I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.

Returning to the problem of being Santa, I asked why no one else could do it. The problem, it seems, is that all the other males (either employees or husbands) have kids who'll be in attendance. They can't be Santa because it will either a) screw with their kids minds (Daddy is also Santa?) or b) ruin the event for them (that's not Santa, it's just Daddy with a fake beard). I would add a third reason: c) they mightn't recognise their father, which seems like a terrible kind of deceit, like those dreams where you start off on a car journey with your father then suddenly it’s your brother, aged six, driving as one would expect a six year old who cannot see about the steering wheel to drive…

I remember going to a Christmas party where my grandfather was Santa Claus. I was of an age where I no longer believed in Father Christmas; the party, in fact, was for the children of international students, if I'm remembering correctly, and I was only there to witness my grandfather "play" Santa. Many of the children there would have never celebrated Christmas before, coming from non-Christian countries and backgrounds -- their attendance at this party was more a concession to experiencing life in New Zealand, the same way NZ tourists experience the Day of the Dead or wade into the Ganges during Kumbh Mela without jumping the religious fence.

He wasn't slim, my grandfather, but he may still have needed a pillow stuffed down the front of his suit, and he certainly needed a fake beard. But he was a grandfatherly age and had, it seemed to me as a child, a booming voice and a suitably “Santa” chuckle.

It was strange to watch these children who had no doubt seen Santa in Coke advertisements and shop windows, suddenly come face to face, and butt to knee, with a living breathing man in red and white suit. He was transformed; I realised, perhaps for the first time, he was not just my grandfather -- he could be other things to other people.

What did these children from Malaysia and Hong Kong and Tanzania think of my Grandfather? Did they believe it was really Santa Claus? I don't know. But I'd hate to think I'm ready to compete with that moment at the age of 26 with a bunch of kids who come to the same Christmas party every year and probably sit on Santa's knee at Queensgate Shopping Centre and wave to him in the Christmas Parade… And I’d hate to compete with my memory of my grandfather playing Santa with a clear conscience.

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