When we were young before the “secret” was out, my dad and mom would tell us they could see Santa’s elves. All grown ups can- they would say. The elves are Santa’s eyes and ears they help the parents and Santa with the naughty and nice lists. Long before the Christmas lights indicated Christmas was around the corner my mom and dad would use Santa and his elves as a way of bribing us into good behaviour. Santa Clause’s naughty and nice list was yearlong leverage for the management of behaviour of children in our household.
Oh I just saw Santa’s elf. He’s watching you Michelle.
Over there on the kitchen window sill.
I don’t see him.
Only good grown ups can. You had better be a good girl and clean up those crayons and put away the paper then come and help your mother by setting the table or the elf will report to Santa that you are naughty.
Susan! Stop eating out of the bird feeder, put your clothes back on and get in the house before you catch a cold! I guess since you are not listening I will have to dial up the big guy…
My mother headed for the phone on the kitchen wall – dialed some numbers and proceeded to conduct a very loud one -sided conversation with Santa Clause’s wife about how Susan likes to run around naked in November and surely this would be a check on the naughty list.
Then she would ask Mrs. Clause to put Santa on the phone for a word. At this Susan dropped the moldy bread left out for the birds, collected her clothes to run up the stairs toward the back door of our house. Susan, running, the back steps and door were never a good combination.
On a regular day without the threat of Santa’s Naughty list Sue could be found trying to right herself after losing her balance falling backward into my mother’s rose garden. It always occurred to me that my mother must have derived some kind of masochistic pleasure from having children topple into her rose garden – why otherwise would she plant thorn bushes beside a set of stairs with no railing?
Since Sue’s hands were filled with articles of clothing, and Santa was on his way to the phone, Sue made haste. The rose garden and a naked Susan seemed doomed to meet. She had a hard time with the door. Losing her balance she fell into the garden but this time she did not cry she didn’t have time. Santa was on his way to the phone. She picked herself up navigated the stairs with a little more caution entered the house to get dressed in a real hurry. Incidentally, Sue was never hungry for a home cooked meal following the bird feeder buffet and another phone call would be made to Santa.
Since Santa was on speed dial and the elves lived on our windowsills year round you can imagine how paranoid I was in the days leading up to the 24th of December. Even after the tree was raised and decorated and the stockings were hung I would sneak into the living room each morning to make sure they were all still there. I was terrified the elves would come in the night to take them away as this year might just be the year Santa was skipping past our house.
I don’t think my folks ever equated my anticipation of Christmas morning with the shear dread I had that Christmas was just not going to happen at all. They had just assumed it was excitement. “Oh Look at Michelle she is bouncing off the walls.”
Dad, who had seen a sketch on either SCTV or SNL starring Martin Short playing an over excited child the night before Christmas, had dissolved into fits of laughter at how representative this sketch was of my behaviour. He reenacted it for me the next day and each subsequent year until I too finally saw the sketch and had to admit – the producers of SNL or SCTV must have been watching me – that or the elves really had reported me and in the off season must have been in the business of making comedic television. Was Martin Short just excited about gifts from Santa? Or had he been brainwashed into thinking he may have more strikes on the naughty side of the page than the good side and that the jolly fat man in the suit was likely passing by his house too? I will never know.
By Christmas Eve I was dying to slip into the living room to see if any treasures were left under the tree. Each year I was truly amazed at what would be there waiting, not just for me but for my whole family. Each year the set up was different, the crumbs left by Santa were in a different place, the carrots left out for the reindeer strategically placed by an exterior window were gone, and it never occurred to us that it was my parents who discovered these things and pointed them out to us…
My usual MO was to wake up around 4:30 AM to go on a recognizance mission up the hall of our bungalow past my parent’s and sister’s bedroom doors toward the living room just to have a peek to see what might be there. Completely unaware, I held my breath, my hands clenched into tiny fists and I pause just a moment before I peer around the half wall into the living room. There before me stands the Christmas tree sparkling and beautiful. There are presents everywhere! The cookies we laid out for Santa are gone! All faith in my behaviour is restored. He was here! I am good! I am good.
I gravitate toward the stocking, which is and has always been my favorite part of Christmas presents. And then I hear;
“Get back to your room before I call Santa and have him come back here to pick up all these presents! Do you know what time it is?”
I whip around to face my Mother.
He was here already mom!
Yes, I heard him leaving, he was very noisy, must have woke you up.
My hands still behind my back carefully take an item from the top of my sock, hide it in my hand to take back to bed with me - this small item was the evidence that I had been good all year. Despite all the threats that the elves were watching me and would report back to Santa if I didn’t eat my Lima beans – the big man had come.
A giant sigh of relief heaved my tiny chest as I settled back into my pillow – I could go back to sleep until 7 AM - at which time I would announce confidently to my whole family it was time to get up to enjoy the delights of Christmas by crowing like a rooster. A rooster. Martin Short never did that.
I laugh when I think about that. What an odd kid. Who crows like a rooster but a rooster? Me - I did.
I was taught to believe in the magic of Christmas even once the giant lie of Christmas was out of the bag. If you can’t believe in the magic of Christmas, then Christmas will never be the same, was my mother’s explanation. So, I believed.