Aaron R. Davis
I was watching television late last night and saw a commercial that horrified me. In it, an actor playing you — hunched over and possibly arthritic — wearily pulled a lever on a machine that looked like those old pneumatic tubes from the late 1800s. Letters from children all over the world dropped out of a dispenser; it didn’t look like many letters, so I had to assume that it was supposed to be just that day’s (or, more hellishly, that hour’s) batch of missives from entitled brats who think Santa must get a bulk discount at the Apple Store.
I watched the actor playing you. He was sick with dread, cowering on a little stool and going through letters from children with all the enthusiasm of a chartered accountant whose computer is down for the third day in a row. I’ve never seen you look quite so cynical, so defeated. But one card caught your eye: from inside the card came the voice of a child: “I want, I want, I want, I want.” And you — or the actor playing you — actually smiled.
It was a gross, chilling scene.
Oh, Santa. Every year I see your likeness trotted out as a shill, used to market the best deals on unnecessary crap. It seems to be trendier every year to portray you as out of touch, a remnant of the past, completely mystified by the technological doodads and voice activated tchotchkes that we come up with, as though a man who knows literally everything you do and keeps track of it doesn’t have any idea what technology is. Jeez, kids ask you for smart phones every year, I’m pretty sure you know a thing or two about how electronics work. (Another thing that bugged me about that commercial: Santa doesn’t have email or a spreadsheet for gift requests or something? Or an assistant to open the mail? What year is this?)
But that’s a digression. My point was, seeing you smile at that electronic card made me weirdly angry. It was one of those cards where people can record a voice message in the mistaken belief that the aspect of a child you most want to visit you in your home is its grating voice, demanding yet more shit for its endless stream of instant gratification. We all want things, kid, we just don’t bother other people into giving it to us.
Kids have no character, no concept of others and I’m sorry, St. Nick, but my generation seems to not be in much of a hurry to build any character or even a modicum of tact among its spawn. I know you’re the patron saint of sailors, but you should really be the patron saint of limitless patience, or at least of suffering greed in silence. I know, I know: they’re just kids and they don’t know any better. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m a teacher; I get frustrated when I see things not being learned.
I couldn’t bear seeing Father Christmas doddering around, as tickled as a grandfather in a nursing home that his adult son or daughter forced their own child into doing the bare minimum: a token gesture that seems personalized but is just as faceless as never coming to visit. I don’t really like to see you portrayed as elderly. You’re not an old man: you’re better than that. You’re a magical figure that represents the sense of community and love for others that humanity can have in its best moments. You’re an ideal of peace and hope personified as a fat guy who sometimes loves Coca-Cola; not a senile, overworked slave meant to churn out presents to all children regardless of how they act. (And not that you asked, but I always thought you were fat and old for symbolic reasons: the age represents wisdom and caring, and the girth represents that, in a spiritual sense, the act of giving nourishes the soul and frees us of want. Giving to others, helping others, having faith reaffirmed through community is the gift that you, Santa Claus, give yourself. What? I can get as poetic as anyone else around the holidays, damn it. You’ve got a big heart because you love everyone and are fulfilled by the sense of togetherness that’s supposed to dominate this time of year …whereas I have an enlarged heart because I love pizza and not taking walks.)
Seriously, though, Santa, the way the kid just went right into “I want, I want, I want” was disgusting. No one ever thinks about what you might be doing. That kid could have started off with some well-wishes, couldn’t she? Dear Santa, I hope you’re doing well this year. I’m still playing with the lovely gifts you got me last year, and I want to thank you for devoting yourself to the idea that life would be better if we all just realized how much we have in common and why that matters. You’re a symbol that transcends its origins, and though it might seem disrespectful to use you to sell electronic bullshit, the symbol itself is resilient enough to withstand such things, because the spirit of giving and the richness of human connection will always be stronger and purer than greed. I love you. I’d also like an Xbox 360, if it’s not too much trouble.
Or, you know, something like that.
Thank you for all you symbolize and for every year cutting through my cynicism and making me believe that life can be something more than my endless complaining.
I’d also like Star Wars on Blu-Ray, if you have a spare moment and it’s not too much trouble. But if someone needs it more, I’ll take the hit. I have a healthy family and a place to live and more than enough to eat, and that’s more than a lot of people have.
With surprising sincerity,
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.