To Santa or not to Santa and other serious topics of great importance on Christmas Eve

I stood in line to pay at a now-defunct comic shop years ago around Christmastime.

A young couple in the shop debated whether they would tell their children about Santa Claus.

The mother worried about lying to their kids and what kind of message that sent.

I suppose one worries about everything when you are a young parent. I am not a parent and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, shall always try to do right and be good so God will not make me one.

I said nothing, which is the wisest policy in things that are not your business.

Still, I couldn’t remember any mass shooters or serial killers whose stories began, “When I found out about Santa Claus not being real, that’s when everything went to hell.”

Then again, I don’t have much use for the people who so zealously guard the myth of Santa Claus that any mention of the reality that Santa isn’t real sends them into a fury.

I once mentioned Santa wasn’t real in a column at the local newspaper. The editor cut the line. I asked why. The editor said a child might read that and we would get a lot of angry calls.

I argued we should do it anyway. If we got a lot of calls from people who said their children saw this, we could stop worrying about attracting young readers.

I was overruled.

I don’t think much about Santa Claus as an adult. It’s a fine myth. I’m surprised the character hasn’t gotten caught in the culture wars.

Santa is an obese, cisgender heterosexual white man. His very existence makes patrons of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Victimhood itchy.

Maybe that’s Santa’s real magic. People aren’t immediately ticked off at the sight of Santa the way they are everything else that turns up in the news.

I try to avoid the news these days, especially since the news industry kicked me out for good.

But I’ll peruse the headlines a couple times of day so that I’m not surprised when we go to war.

That happened once to Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died.

This was before I came into their lives and wrecked their schedule. They were off camping somewhere on vacation.

They went into the nearest town to get some groceries and supplies. Everyone was huddled around the TV.

Dad 2.0 asked what was going on.

“Don’t ya know? We’re at war!” I imagine the clerk said.

The first Persian Gulf War had started. I don’t know if my folks bought a newspaper to catch up, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They had plenty of newspaper for kindling.

In modern times, I scroll the headlines, and everybody is telling me what’s wrong with everything.

The president isn’t popular. Has he ever been?

The economy stinks. It usually does, especially if you’re poor.

Everybody has COVID, is going to get COVID, or has already died of COVID.

Your favorite TV show stinks and here’s a list of five reasons why you’re wrong to like it.

Newsweek published a real winner the other day about the new “Spider-Man” movie: “Andrew Garfield and Charlie Cox Didn’t Tell Us the Truth — And We’re Not Okay.”

The headline references actors in the movie who mislead the media about being in the movie about their roles in the movie to avoid ruining a surprise for viewers before the movie was released.

But just look at the emotion in that headline: “And We’re Not Okay.”

Can’t you just feel the existential angst? There must not be an adult within six blocks of Newsweek.

The pain these poor Newsweek staffers must have endured by what amounts to a Hollywood game of three-card monte.

I wonder if whoever the “they” is in that “we are not okay group” grew up believing in Santa Claus and, upon learning he wasn’t real, swore an oath in their grief to seek truth and publish, not necessarily in that order.

They fought to become journalists in the age when if journalism isn’t dead, it’s at the hospice without the morphine drip.

And, finally, they unearthed another lie, one that rivaled the untruths of Old St. Nick: Some actors said they weren’t in a superhero movie when they were.

They reported the truth like 14-year-old kids texting about the girl they like from Algebra class flirting with the captain of the boys’ basketball team.

God bless these American heroes at Newsweek. Democracy dies by dimwits.

Santa Claus is probably triggering or a micro aggression. He might be the worldwide distributor of intersectionality.

(To readers who don’t know what that last word means in today’s political climate, the only thing I can tell you is that if someone brings it up, find a graceful way to exit the conversation before a protest breaks out.)

I know if I were to become a parent, I would not introduce the myth of Santa Claus.

This has nothing to do with the welfare of my non-existent child.

I’m just selfish.

I want my never-will-be kid to know that I worked some job I hated 40 hours a week or more for the money to buy this stuff that will be broken, lost, or forgotten about three days after Christmas.

You want to thank somebody with milk and cookies, kid? Thank your dear, old dad — and make it a sipper of Tennessee Fire while you’re at it.

The other reason I wouldn’t do Santa Claus is because the one good thing you get out of it is a disciplinary tool that relies on the phony surveillance of an all-seeing distributor of toys.

“You’d better stop acting like that because Santa will see you being naughty and leave you a lump of coal,” Mom 1.0 sometimes dropped on me if I was acting foolish.

I would straighten up and beg forgiveness of the Great Pumpkin, er, I mean Santa.

But as a disciplinary tool, this only works from Black Friday to Dec. 24. Try trotting out the “Santa’s watching” when your son is blasting your daughter’s Barbies with his new rapid-fire Nerf gun on Dec. 25th.

Santa? That fat fool won’t be back for another year. On my signal, unleash hell on Barbie’s Dream House.

I favor year-round discipline by surveillance.

Modern Americans are so terrified of each other that they line their homes with cameras from their kid’s teddy bear to the doorbell.

They can review six months of recordings to find out who left the toilet seat up or who put the milk back in the fridge when it was basically empty.

Do Santa. Don’t do Santa. Either way will probably be fine.

But let’s not forget to say a big thank you to the people who really make Christmas happen: Amazon delivery drivers.


Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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Podcast: We talk about Christmas stuff including Sprite Winter Spiced Cranberry, which totally doesn’t endorse us, but we would accept their money or free pop if they did

#87: The story about the dog playing Connect Four makes Dan's sleepy, slurred voice almost tolerable in this career low outing Talking Paragraphs

Dan and Paul honor #NationalBoobDay and complain about the "bent carrot" metaphor before Dan starts to fall asleep in the middle of the show and Paul saves the whole thing with a story about a dog and its owner playing Connect Four. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/support
  1. #87: The story about the dog playing Connect Four makes Dan's sleepy, slurred voice almost tolerable in this career low outing
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To my family and friends on the occasion of Christmas, 2020

Episodes of Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” air on a special channel of PlutoTV.

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

The internet streaming service Pluto offers a channel that plays reruns of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” minus the musical acts.

Watching Carson’s monologue would be an interesting way to study history. We tend to think things are the worst they’ve ever been.

If you judge by Carson’s jokes, we always have.

During a show from 1989, Carson told a joke about a TV movie about the last days of Richard Nixon as president.

“It reminded us of the terrifying days when Spiro Agnew was just a heartbeat away from the presidency,” Carson said. “Now, that doesn’t seem so bad.”

The audience laughed.

The president at the time Carson made the joke was George H.W. Bush, who was hailed as a hero of the World War II generation when he died in 2018.

Dan Quayle was vice president and the punchline of the joke.

People joked that Quayle was too young to be vice president. Editorials often depicted Quayle as a little boy. He once misspelled “potato” in front of a room full of schoolchildren.

Quayle was 42 years old when Carson made that joke in 1989.

I’m three years older than Quayle was then. I feel too old to be vice president. I’m not nearly a good enough speller.

People often talk about their past as simpler times. That’s not true.

Pluto plays Carson shows from the 1970s through the 1990s. A show from the 1970s makes jokes about inflation under Nixon.

Another episode talks about high gas prices during the energy crisis under Carter.

Carson dressed as George Washington in one gag and said fellow farmer Carter piled his manure higher.

Shows in the late 1980s poked fun at the rising Japanese investors buying up American icons such as Rockefeller Center in New York.

I doubt if you polled anyone in the audience of those Carson shows, they would have described their life as simple. Humans are complicated. Life around them is, too.

I think life was quieter then. Everybody yells these days. And technology has given a lot of people powerful tools to be louder than when they had to manually type their manifestos in cabins.

I wonder how many crazy people with truly terrible ideas just gave up because going to the post office was a hassle. They just had a beer and watched a ballgame.

2020 was a hard year both personally and for the whole world. I don’t feel like recounting all the ways why. That’s excessive and we are fully stocked on excessive.

Instead, I recall a story from my friend David Oman, former chief of staff to both Iowa Govs. Bob Ray and Terry Branstad.

The story started on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. David picked up his son, Graham, from school.

Graham asked what was wrong. His mother usually picked him up from school. David tried to tell Graham, then-6, about the buildings attacked in New York and Washington, D.C.

“It’s a bad day,” David remembered saying.

Graham said, “I think it’s a good day.”

This shocked David. He asked his boy why he thought that.

“Well,” the child said, “today is the newest day. And somewhere somebody invented something.”

Only children can pull a thread of hope out of such grim moment. Maybe that’s the simplicity people remember. The simplicity of hope.

I hope you’re still surprised.

I hope you’re still awed.

I hope you smile often and laugh easily.

I hope you read.

I hope you imagine.

I hope you create.

I hope you have a moment in the flurry of wrapping paper, cacophony of joyful noises and bellyful of food that your mind slows down so that your thoughts fit between the ticks of a clock and you realize just how nice all of this really is.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas and a merry New Year.

With love and hope,

dpf

Daniel P. Finney is a five-time winner of the Long Winter’s Nap contest.