Santa Claus Isn't Walking Through That Door
Keeping the myth alive with screws and glue on the Longest Night of the Year.
This can be a stressful time of year, and from the outside it might seem like having kids would only add to that stress. I don’t view it that way, though: despite all the added burdens parenting small children brings around the holidays, it also offers the chance to view the season the way that they do, a sentiment more eloquently expressed a few days ago by my friend Matt Brown:
If you’re fortunate enough to be able to provide it, getting the chance to see holiday magic through the eyes of a child is an absolute joy, and joys of any sort have been few and far apart this year. My children, for their part, have embraced it with absolute gusto, festooning the house with homemade ornaments and handmade cards by the dozen. In the car the other night, my five-year-old son told us to “play the ‘All I Want For Christmas’ song twice”, because sometimes you just know exactly what you need.
Of course, much of this centers on the mythmaking of Santa Claus, something I wrote about at some length last year. We bend and twist and improvise to keep their belief in Santa Claus alive as long as we can, because the magic of the season demands that we cede credit for our efforts to a mythical stranger who’s going to break into our house later this week. It’s not a one-way street, of course: the mere idea of Santa is quite useful for leveraging occasional compliance and slightly better behavior one month a year, and also for insulating us from any precedent-setting on our indulgences.
Until around December 21st, that is, when Santa reveals himself to be a deadbeat who skipped town and left you holding the bag.
No matter how well you plan, no matter how far ahead you’ve shopped, there will be a point—usually right around now—when you suddenly find yourself in a quagmire, responsible for backing up the big man’s promises without access to any of those magical powers you’ve been crediting him with. Something will break, some critical part will go missing, some odd last-minute request will materialize, and it’ll happen right after you’re definitively out of the window for a solution to be shipped in time.
Santa will have agreed to something, and now it’s up to you to make it possible.
I’m going to say two words here, and perhaps ninety percent or more of the people reading this will feel absolutely nothing, but a nonzero number of you will flinch like you’ve just seen an athlete’s knee bend in two directions it shouldn’t: KidCraft Kitchen.
(I probably should have put a content warning up top. I’m sorry.)
It seems like a nice idea: a fun, well-built play center that can even look attractive sitting out in your living room. A nice idea, until you’ve put the kids to bed on Christmas Eve and open the box to realize there are two dozen different kinds of screws, half of which will strip in the process of screwing them in, and you’ll finish it as the sun comes up wondering if it wouldn’t have just been easier to renovate your actual kitchen. The kid will play with it for one year and your hands will be sore from trying to coax the last stubborn screw in for two years.
I didn’t sign on to be a woodworker. Some people, like my friend Matt above, take it up as a relaxing hobby. I find myself deputized into it by an elf who’s off eating cookies in someone else’s house while I’m trying to make sense of his blueprints. This year, our big Santa project for the children is a DIY Lego table, a nice place where they can, theoretically, keep their foot-destroying projects clean and off the floor. (They will not, but just as they hold on to a stubborn belief in Santa Claus, we cling desperately to the notion that we could have an organized house.) We’d modify a small table with storage bins and baseplates, following the simple-enough instructions from this blog post.
We ordered all of the parts well in advance and stowed them safely away until closer to the holiday, hoping to not have to hide fully-assembled furniture for an entire month. Finally, a week ago, we opened the package to find that the tabletop had been split clean in two, something that may have been connected to the boot-print on the box. (Who’s to say?) Accidents happen, I get it, and I won’t name names, but I’ll just say this: Santa may be Scandinavian in origin, but his countrymen aren’t doing him any solids, having simply taken their phones off the hook for most of the last week. (They’re probably busy making meatballs. Again, not naming names.)
It’s fitting, then: much as I claw and scrape to hold the Santa myth together for my kids for one more year, creating increasingly-contorted explanations for the things that just don’t add up about his story, abruptly fast-forwarding through movie scenes where characters breach the notion that he might not be real, even enlisting a friend in costume to chat with them over Zoom so their requests could be delivered face-to-face in a socially-distant year, an important part of Santa’s efforts in our household this year are being held together with wood glue and bar clamps in my garage right now.
Hopefully, they will experience a moment of wonder and joy on Friday morning, when they wake to find that the magical stranger did arrive and delivered a special new toy right into their house. If all goes right, they’ll get at least a few years of enjoyment, sitting at it and creating wonders all their own. Perhaps at some point, they’ll look closer and notice a subtle crack, a seam haphazardly glued, puttied, and sanded to the best abilities of two people who aren’t especially good with their hands, and they’ll ask what happened.
I could tell them how we stayed up all night making sure it was just right. I could tell them we’d do anything to cling to one more year of seeing that wonder in their eye, one more year of belief in a magic that can never quite be recaptured once it’s gone. I could tell them that there’s nothing a parent wouldn’t try to do to give them that moment of joy they’ve waited for all year.
But I’ll probably just tell them a reindeer stepped on it.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
I know you’ve got last-minute Christmas fiascoes of your own, and I’d love to hear them. Please, share with us in the comments!
When our daughters were younger, my wife had a pretty firm rule about no batteries and limited assembly for Christmas presents. That meant that any late night shenanigans on the 24th were mostly because I had failed to complete my portion of wrapping duty. It also explains that one Christmas Eve when my folks and my brother & his wife were visiting, so I decided they all needed to try sazeracs, one thing led to another, and there are pictures of me scooting around the living room and kitchen with a 4 foot tall bear balanced on my head. Too much time on my hands (as well as my great-grandfather's cocktail shaker which is an imperial pint because he believed in mass production.
My college had a Christmas tradition of only allowing All I Want For Christmas by Mariah Carey to be the only song that could play on the jukebox in the student center. Papers could be written on the Stockholm syndrome that develops by Senior year when they became the enforcers of this "fun" tradition.