I’m usually not so taken with Christmas in early December. By this time I’m wrapping myself in a weighty coil of holiday defenses that I’ve been acquiring over the years. It’s a sort of layaway agreement I have with the good spirits at Scrooge & Marley. They tell me I’m working on a “ponderous chain” indeed.
But from the residual calm and goodwill from my recent trip to Cancun, I joined the family in a visit to a local Christmas village this weekend. It is normally costumed as a country outpost that spews charm from a dozen stores selling candy, confederate flag bikinis, and cigar boxes featuring a nonchalant Christ waltzing up Calvary with a cross that must’ve been made of balsa wood. But the village has now been transformed in the traditional way, with string lights stapled to every square inch of the place and an endless loop of Jose Feliciano blasting through speakers camouflaged as trash cans and rocks.
According to the posted schedule of events, “The Snow Angel” was to appear in the exhibit hall fifteen minutes after we arrived. Not knowing what Snow Angel was, I felt this might be the only chance I had to find out, and that it could be our last chance to get a decent family picture for a holiday card. So I dragged my son wearing his holiday best – a Hawaiian shirt (Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say!) and polyester athletic shorts – and my daughter dressed in every shade of purple from maroon to periwinkle, up the hill with a growing concern that we may have to wait in a long line of snow angel enthusiasts.
After a moment of wandering around inside the hall, we found the queue. And as a few other families trickled in, the trumpets rang out from above and we looked up to see the Snow Angel dressed in sparkly white, standing on a balcony, and miming a pre-recorded greeting over the PA. She was a short woman who, because of the high unemployment rate, was probably just happy to have a job, though not so happy to overcome the fear of walking down the long staircase with all that angel gear, wings and fluff. As she took a seat on her throne, I saw more clearly the huge plastic mitre on her head and that, from the side, it looked like a gravy boat. Poor thing, I thought. She couldn’t possibly be doing this for the money. Maybe she was in a bar fight and this was the sentence from a judge who desperately needed a vacation.
Before I knew what was happening, one of her gendarmes, a large man in a white high school marching band uniform, ushered my kids up the stairs to the Snow Angel. In the past, each time we have visited Santa, I have taken care to coach them on the Santa-Child dialog that us adults know well:
Santa: Asks for Child’s name
Child: Gives it
Santa: Inquires as to Child’s self-judgment of his/her behavior over the past 365 days, as if this is a reasonable request. Would, for example, pushing your sister in front of a bus be cancelled out by, say, single-handedly dismantling an Islamist sleeper cell, or does it average out to something merely “fair?”
Child: Despite reservations, gives “good” self-evaluation
Santa: Listens to Child’s milquetoast judgment while studying body language, scanning for fidgeting and sweaty upper lips or other evidence of lying and guilt. After an intentionally long moment of silent staring, known within the Santa Guild as “yuletide waterboarding,” asks Child what he/she wants for Christmas.
Child: Mentions a few toys, then urinates on Santa’s leg.
Santa: Dreams of the 40-year old scotch he’s already given himself as an early Christmas present.
But, as I watched my kids sit with this woman, I realized I had no idea what they were supposed to do, or say. I had given up my children without any kind of holiday compass. Surely Snow Angel wasn’t boggarting Santa’s judgment for toys racket. Maybe she could reveal scores and other details of future sporting events.
The kids spoke to her for a moment and upon their release we were escorted by another drum major to the “Buy these overpriced pictures or we’ll tell Child and Family Services about you” counter. After our purchase, as we walked back into the village with fuzzy pictures in my hand and guilt in my heart, I asked them what they said to Snow Angel. What she said. Did they ask for anything? Will the Falcons finally win a Superbowl?
“She said she knows Santa,” my daughter said.
And with just over three weeks left until Christmas, I found that old holiday spirit again, telling me it was time for another link on my chain. And I wrapped myself up in its cold and steely warmth.