Looking back on my childhood, Christmas was a special time. My siblings and I knew that the entire month of December was a celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. This we knew, we knew on an intrinsic level, deep in our DNA. We might have known this, we might have said this if asked (“Why do we celebrate Christmas?” “Because that’s the day Jesus was born,”), but that is not what we actually thought. Oh, no.
What we thought was, “Let’s build a shrine to Santa, he’s the one we really need to impress.”
Obviously, the tree was such a shrine. My mother would carefully unwrap painted clay snowmen and crystal pine cones, and then she would hunt around until she found the delicate glass ornament of the Virgin Mary holding the sleeping baby Jesus.
“MOV, honey, here. You're old enough that you can have the honor of putting up the special Jesus ornament!” She handed it to me with a careful reverance, as if she was entrusting me with a piece of her very soul.
I shoved it on the bottom of the tree where the cat or my younger brother might break it, then dove back in the box searching for the carved wooden Santa Claus ornament.
“I found it!” I’d squeal, and Oakley would zip over, eager to touch the emblem of celebrity and All Things Good.
That ornament was hung front and center.
Of course, our letters to Santa started almost the day after Thanksgiving.
“Dear Santa,” I’d begin with my first draft, “Please send me a Snoopy Snow-Cone Machine and a Pet Rock like the one Wendy Papadopolous has and an Easy-Bake Oven and the Barbie Dream House and also a new bike (in red or purple). I have been very good. And, I want to let you know I admire your work. Love your biggest fan, MOV.” Even as a fourth grader, I used flattery to get what I wanted.
We memorized the words to the songs with Santa in the title (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Santa Baby,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,”). We sang them all day, every day. When the religious songs would come on the radio, we’d just turn it off.
We knew Santa was way more important than Jesus because we saw Santa everywhere: at the mall, at the other mall, outside the grocery store ringing a bell, in parades, on TV shows, on commercials, riding around on fire trucks in our neighborhood. It was Santa Saturation. In all my years of Sunday school, I had never seen Jesus in person even once. Oh, sure, there were pictures of Jesus, but not an actual Jesus wandering around and chatting with people and passing out candy canes. And yes, there was talk of God and Jesus being everywhere and all around you, but let’s face it: I was nine and I needed tangible proof.
Presents were tangible.
Christmas morning would finally arrive and we would tear into our neatly hung stockings and Martha Stewart-perfect gifts like starved wolves at a bunny buffet. Shredded confetti strips of torn red and green wrapping paper and slivered wisps of shimmery ribbon would be all that remained, strewn everywhere as a reminder of Santa’s promises kept.
We would play with our toys for hours, congratulating ourselves on how good we’d been and how effective our letters were and how we wanted to marry Santa when we grew up so we could have direct access to all those toys.
A few weeks ago, Tall and Short wrote out their wish lists for Santa. There were a few items I’d never heard of (involving sophisticated versions of Legos), so I asked Tall to show me on the computer precisely what he was talking about.
He sat down and clicked on Amazon’s website. Within seconds, not only were we able to look at the exact Lego Ninjago set he wanted, but über-helpful Amazon had a few suggestions of “Things You Might Also Like.” Of course Amazon was right: Tall did like those things. He promptly clicked “Add to Shopping Basket.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice rising. “I’m not buying those! We’re just looking at them so that—”
“I know, Mom, sorry,” he cut me off, “I didn’t mean to put them in my Shopping Basket, I meant to put them on my Wish List.”
“Your Amazon Wish List?” I was amazed. How did Tall know about these things?
“Sure, Mom, that’s what Santa uses to compile his database.”