Thursday, December 30, 2004

Christmas 2004

First, a public service announcement from Eddie Ifft - professional comedian, ex-lifeguard, and humanitarian:

When September 11th happened the world rushed to the assistance of the United States. Aid poured in from all over the world. The devastating tsunamis that hit Southeast Asia this week have already taken over 77,000 lives. The International Red Cross is expecting that number to go much higher, possibly over 100,000. Many more people have been left homeless and without clean drinking water and in danger of terrible diseases. Now is our chance to give back. The link below is a list of organizations that are providing information and assistance. I hate SPAM, but for once I think it is necessary. Please forward this to your own friends and family.

Now, to the re-cap of my Christmas:

Another Christmas has now come and gone, and as great as it was we are already getting the unfortunate sense that the number of true-believing Christmas’ you get to have with your kids is much too finite. There are only two solutions to that unfortunate fact: either keep ‘em coming – new kids that is, or shield your kids completely from the wider world. We are almost done with the first approach, and are now seriously contemplating the second. It would be a Hurculean task in this day and age – you have to get rid of your TV for starters, as well as the TVs of all of your kids’ friends – or else get rid of the friends. And even still, after taking such precautions, you will probably face and eventually lose to the growing light of reason in your child’s head.

But for now, the one and only question I got this year questioning the authenticity of Santa Claus came from Billy – “But how does he grow the beard?” A softball doubting -Thomas question if ever there was one! After a five minute disquisition on hair follicles and protein, I think he was satisfied that the beard is indeed authentic. But eventually the questions will become more sophisticated – “Dad, given that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, and that the population of the world is approaching 4 billion, spread across a globe that has a circumference of 24,889 miles, implying a surface area of 1.946 billion miles, wouldn’t it be impossible for the alleged Santa Claus to stop at every single house, leave presents under the tree, eat the cookies, and get up and down the chimney to and from his sleigh? And don’t give me the international timeline answer – I’ve factored that in, and still I figure Santa would have to exceed the speed of light to finish the job.” Or maybe it will be something far simpler and more ethically based, like “Why does Santa discriminate against Jews, and how can he tell the Jewish homes from the Christians?” Or “How come Santa will not let the elves form a union?”

Again, all of this is for the future. For now, we have three true believers, the youngest of which, Jake, swears to his dad that he heard Santa Claus land on the roof. Some might say that dad led our little 3 year old Jake with his questions, but the seriousness of Jake’s reply, with eyes wide-open in wonder, suggests otherwise. Jake wisely pretended to still be asleep so that Santa would not suspect anything was amiss. Jake was the first (other than Mom) to awake, and before he could scamper down the steps in advance of the film crew (dad) being in position, I called to him from my bed to join me, at which time he confirmed that Santa had truly visited. I made him stay in my bed while I went downstairs to get the video camera Christmas-ready. Mom was busy making cinnamon roles, a Christmas tradition that will unfortunately end this year, as the kids wanted no part of them.

Gift opening was frenzied, as all three now have the dexterity to open gifts at a dizzying pace, and none of the three have developed any inkling of patience. (Jake, by the way, set the mark for quickest destruction of a new gift - as he opened his ceramic Robin (Batman's sidekick) ornament from its wrapping, it flew out of his hand onto the hardwood floor, and a his left foort broke clean off). But perhaps that is too harsh, as non-Santa gifts began arriving in the mail two weeks prior to Christmas, and have sat beneath the tree taunting the kids ever since. The tree they sat under is genuine artificial Douglas Fir, a necessary concession to the allergens brought into the home by the fake ones that people cut down outdoors, which would turn Joey into a whirling dervish for three weeks. Mom has been lobbying for the fake tree for years, but we found out only last year that Joe’s allergies included ones related to the traditional tree, and so dad did not give up the argument until this year.

But I have a confession – I love it! Pre-wired with lights, this baby is the Cadillac of fake trees. If you are looking at it from a distance of twenty feet in feint light, you cannot even tell it is fake. It is even purposefully irregular in its branching so as to reflect the random imperfections of nature (or American manufacturing - take your pick). No watering required, no needles to vacuum, no scratching of the car, no fire hazard, no screwing the stand into the trunk! But an easy Christmas presents a dangerous slippery slope for a Christian - having discovered the comparative ease of a fake tree, part of me thinks a menorah would be even easier.

To my great surprise, this year there were very few toys strapped to the packaging with those little metal twist-ties wrapped in a sheath of clear plastic, which have been the bane of my existence. Every action figure (not doll!, as Jake was quick to point out when I told someone he got a Yoda doll) comes bolted down to the plastic packaging with at least 6 of these twist-ties, with the ends of each forming a double helix strand that is no less than 5 twists long. Scissors can cut them, but not without some degree of force, and then you are still left having to pull the tie through the hole. As much as I hate these twist ties, by necessity I am good at unraveling them. If it were an Olympic sport (and it probably has as much of claim to being one as most events these days), I’d have been a metal contender. There with my callused finger tips in Athens, I would have done the hands-only event, the scissors-only event, and the freestyle competition, giving me three shots at Olympic glory. I attribute the excessive use of twist-ties to the Chi-Comms who no doubt assembled our toys – taking a dig at the consumer excesses of capitalism by making the fathers of our materialistic society spend their Christmas day cursing the toy manufacturers.

Though the kids’ Christmas did not disappoint, when they are my age they will no doubt look back upon Christmas day as being anti-climactic from the toy perspective. When I reminisce, the day I remember more is the day that the JC Penney Christmas catalogue arrived in the mail – 500 pages of pure possibility. Well, make that 200, as the first 300 were clothes and other boring items that held no allure. As long as you had that catalogue, and Christmas day was still interminably in the future (like two weeks away), everything – race tracks, Lincoln logs, planet of the apes forts, GI Joe, record players, bikes, skateboards – was a theoretical possibility. Only on Christmas day did 95 percent of the possibility set become an impossibility.

Our kids are no different – they are catalogue connoisseurs. But unlike in our day, they get smaller catalogues by the dozens throughout the year. Different ones for different minor holidays that the merchants of America try desperately to turn into an occasion to buy more crap for your kids. (Which reminds me of one of the best lines in The Jerk, when Steve Martin is working at the carnival, and his tag line for getting people to play his carnie game is “Step right up and win some crap.”) They love their catalogues, and will walk you through each page saying what they want on each. All requests are of course possible as long as you can point to the page in the catalogue and as long as Christmas is not quite here.


Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

When you think about it, it really is amusing to bust the logic of Santa Claus, although I do so only in the spirit of fun & would never do it when children are around. I thought of another one this past weekend: is it conceivable that the first few houses that Santa stops at might be completely crushed by the weight of the sleigh *completely* full of toys??

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the only other question you may need to handle as i had to this year is "it looks like santa sell his gifts daddy" since in the haste of wrapping a billion gifts late at nightafter a drinking binge at work, someone forgot to take off the price tags

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can use logic all you want when applied to Santa, but you discount the truly wonderful thing about being a kid - the belief in magic. My 7 year-old probably only has a few years left of true believing, and the wheels are already turning (How does Santa come through our gas fireplace when there's no chimney?, If we leave out carrots for the reindeer, and they get nibbled on, does that mean the reindeer were in the house too?) But the simple fact of childhood is that all the complex physics can be explained away by attributing it to Santa being magic. My son answers his own questions - he's magic, right dad? Who am I to argue with him. Have you ever been to the North Pole?

8:49 AM  
Blogger John Wolfram said...

Yes Hatcher is a guy who can remove twist ties with calloused hands -- this from a guy who constructed his twin's cribs without benefit of an electric screwdriver.

The Sears catalog was awesome. You'd fight over that for months -- way more than you actually fought over the toys you got.

Robin was always a pansy anyway; it's no wonder he broke first.

And we are left with the lasting question -- yeah Santa brought a Batman and Superman and Flash, but what about the "Bruce Wayne-dress-up Batman that I REALLY wanted? Guess I'll put him on the list for my birthday."

2:17 PM  

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