The Influence Of
This Jolly Old Icon.
Last year, a good friend of mine and I had our kids’ photos taken on Santa’s lap. It was a spontaneous move that was met with outrage from both baby-parties, in spite of the fact that we were at an arm’s length the whole time and the photo shoot was finished in less time than it’ll take me to type this. They were both one-year-old at the time. Opal’s face went abruptly ruddy and tear-soaked and my friend’s son wailed while holding his hands to the sky like a prairie dog expressing personal outrage to the gods. We picked them back up instantly, but not before a photo was snapped. The image went instantly viral among our family and friends. It was illegally scanned and hit Facebook like a fly ball. It even landed on a coffee mug.
I have made a study of that photo over last year: the unquestionable passion in the kids’ faces, the indignation and fury of their reactions juxtaposed against an environment rupturing with seasonal cheer. In the photo, Santa has a smile that maintains a relentless placidity, after weeks of already having posed as the ultimate holiday mascot. Peeking from beneath the sleeves of his red-velvet coat, you can just barely glimpse the cuffs of a cowboy shirt, complete with mother-of-pearl inlay buttons. If it weren’t for this tiny visual reminder, I may very well have convinced myself that Santa-Jim from Flatirons Mall was the real deal.
The first time we saw Santa this season, a year since the aforementioned photo was taken, Opal recognized him with deeply approving familiarity. It was as if he were someone she’d developed a relationship with all year long, out of view. She let out a shriek of glory as we turned the corner and his fluffy little hat came into sight. SANTA!! She waved maniacally from her stroller. OVER HERE, SANTA, LOOK AT OPAL! HI SANTA!
Opal was fighting a cold so we refrained from photos and hugs on that particular day. As we wheeled her away, she looked enlivened as she stated indirectly and a bit dreamily, to herself: Santa bring Opal presents. Jesse and I exchanged a glance that read, simultaneously, say what?
You see, neither of us have ever had a birds-and-the-bees chat with Opal regarding how the whole American Santa Claus thing works. She just picked it up. We don’t watch television. She’s too young for movies. She does go to daycare two half-days a week, so our hypothesis is that she picked up pertinent Kris Kringle information during her short stints there. Regardless of the how, it is still a shock when she comes home with data she has gathered independently of us from the Outside World.
I have friends who are anti-Santa, believe it or not. There are a few mamas I know who think he represents consumerism while at the same time convincing scads of young kids to buy into a universal falsehood. I see no need to be so gloomy, though I have certainly taken my fair share of time to consider the robust holiday tradition that lives in and is represented by this one man. It wasn’t until we were met with Opal’s heartfelt fondness for Santa that we began to consider his influence. We’ve visited the mall many times this season and Opal’s response is always the same. OPAL SEE SANTA!! HI SANTA! SANTA BRING OPAL PRESENTS!
And then after some reflection, SANTA LOVVES OPAL.
I, for one, regard the holiday hubbub as pretty magical, Santa included. The spirit of this man is so directly accessible to my daughter that he has been at the tippy-top of her toddler-conversation for weeks. I can’t help but to wonder how she’ll mourn once the New Year rolls around and his presence has all but vanished.
But until then, we’ve been using Santa as an allegory to discuss with Opal the notion of gift-offering and generosity. (None of the Santa’s-watching-you-rubbish.) When she says SANTA BRING OPAL PRESENTS we follow up with something to the effect of AND he delivers presents to every other kiddo on the planet! I bet it feels so great to be able to be that kind to everyone you know!
This year, we ‘adopted’ two kids from low-income families in neighboring communities to purchase gifts for. When I showed Opal the gifts we got for them, she predictably wanted them all for herself and was, at first, a bit bristly with the idea of passing the toys on. But she quickly followed our lead and embraced the celebratory nature of the thing. In no time, she was jazzed to help me assemble their boxes before eventually losing interest and scurrying off to play with her own things.
Opal still asks for presents on a regular basis, but frankly, so do many of us in some way. Lately, I have noticed something else happening in addition to my toddler simply wanting. She is wanting to give, as well. A month ago as Opal and I were off to visit a new baby, she asked if she could take a toy of her own as a gift. That afternoon, I saw her face blaze with fulfillment as the adults made a fuss over her sweet offering.
And last week when the garbage man rode by, Opal asked if we could give him one of her Christmas ornaments. Unfortunately though, he had sped off by the time we plucked one from the branch and made it back outside. The next thing I knew, I was jogging down the street after the garbage truck, toting Opal on a hip and with a birdy ornament dangling from my finger. As he turned the corner and sped out of sight, Opal pleaded, MOMMY GO GET HIM!
I paused, caught my breath and thought to myself, Nicely done, Santa Jim. This is your doing, big guy.
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