Marti's Theory

Well, Actually, Virginia…

Posted on: December 1, 2013

It’s been over fifty years, but I’ll never forget the trepidation I felt the first time I saw him.  The one lesson that had been drilled into my brain was to never talk to strangers or to ever accept gifts from them.  I had spent my entire four years of life with only members of my rather large extended family and this guy was most DEFINITELY a stranger.  Not only that, but he was also in disguise.  The beard was shiny white – like my dolls’ hair, NOT like any real beard I’d ever seen.  I remember his eyes – peering at me over glasses that were more like little windows than the kind in my grandmother’s eyeglasses, which made everything look bigger.  No, this man was obviously pretending to be somebody he wasn’t.

The worst part was – my own father wanted me to sit on this dude’s lap!  Dad said that if I sat on his lap like the other kids were doing, this man would give me a toy.  “Daddy, how could you?” I thought, and began to cry.  Right there in the middle of The Hub, Steubenville, Ohio’s flagship department store.  What sick grown up game was this?

Luckily, my mom intervened.  “Stop it!  She doesn’t have to go and I’m glad she doesn’t want to.”  I was folded into the layers of my mom’s winter coat and held, while my dad was dispatched to “get the damn toy.”  He got it, I took it, left with my parents and was happy to get away from the guy in the weird red suit who was obviously pretending to be someone that – I knew at age four –  didn’t really exist.

Fast forward a few years to sitting around my parents’ kitchen table with a variety of aunts and uncles telling tales, when I learn about my mom’s first encounter with the idea of Santa Clause:

My grandparents, who immigrated from Serbia (Yugoslavia), were Eastern Orthodox.  This religion, similar to Byzantine Catholic, followed the Gregorian, rather than the modern Julian calendar and celebrated their holidays on a different time scale.  So Christmas was celebrated on January 7th, rather than December 25.  America was very different from where they came from, so catching up with the culture was always kind of hit or miss.

When my mom was in first grade, she returned to school after the Christmas break, only to be regaled with stories of all the cool presents Santa brought to her classmates.  “What did Santa bring you, Annie,” she was asked.

“Santa?  I don’t know who that is.”

“You mean Santa didn’t bring you anything?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Oh, then that means you must be bad!  Santa brings presents to good boys and girls but not to bad ones!”

Mom remembers going home in tears about this, until her older brother and sister helped her sort out the whole Santa thing.

Mom also said that although she remained neutral on the topic,  my dad, aunts and uncles tried to convince me of his existence. But she said I never bought it.  This is not to say I didn’t have an active imagination; I most certainly did.  I had imaginary friends, created extravaganzas, and even put on Alakazam magic shows for younger cousins.  Just could never wrap around the Santa concept.  She said as early as age three, my reaction to Santa stories was, “Oh, that’s just dumb!”

I knew that as a mom, it would be asked of me someday, and dreaded the moment more than “Where do babies come from?”  For years I thought about how I’d handle it.

Then when he was about six, my son asked:

”Mom, is there really a Santa Clause?”

So I began:

”Well, I can’t really say for sure.  Everyone has to figure that out for themselves, and –“

There was way more of my often rehearsed speech to say, like talking about the spirit of Santa, the meaning of giving, etc. but he had cut me off midway through my second sentence.

“Okay, then I think I’ll believe in it for another year and then see where it goes from there.  Does that sound okay?”

“Sounds just right.”

“Cool.”  And he was off to play with his friends, the last word ever about the jolly man in the red suit.

We did the Christmas thing every year – trees, music, presents, lights, the whole thing and it was fun.  When he’d read the “from Santa” gift tag – even at a young age – he’d just look at me with that “yeah, right” expression.  I’d just smile and he’d roll his eyes.

This whole tangent was triggered by a short conversation I had with him, now twenty and on his own, the other day:

“How as your Thanksgiving?”

“Good.  And yours?”

“Really nice.”

“Good.  (pause)  Mom, about Christmas coming up … you know I don’t really care about the holiday thing that much, right?

”Oh, I’m so sorry, Son.  I think that’s my fault, cause I’m kinda ambivalent about it myself.”

“No, you don’t get what I mean.  I mean, thank you for not pushing it on me, especially now.  I really appreciate that.”

“Oh.  Okay.  You’re welcome? I guess?”

He laughed, patted me on the back and went back to his house.

So there you have it.  Three generations of “American Christmas” skeptics.  Nature? Or Nurture?  Hard to say…

Natalie Wood - Miracle on 42nd Street

Natalie Wood – Miracle on 42nd Street

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