Pay no Attention to that Man in the Red Suit: or, the Not-so-Secret Santa

Chimney: noun- a brick-like attachment to the roof of a dwelling that communicates with the home’s interior for the express purpose of providing Santa with an access point through which to deliver Christmas presents under cover of darkness.

If you’d asked me when I was 5what function a chimney performed, this would have been my response. All houses had chimneys, end-of-story. I was never perplexed by the fact that a chimney was not visible protruding from the rooftop of my family’s house. It never occurred to me that the visible lack of said chimney had to do with the fact that our house didn’t have a fireplace, because a chimney’s utility had nothing to do with filtering smoke from inside the house into the open air. It never occurred to me that Santa had more inventive ways of breaking and entering than slipping down a sooty slide. I didn’t know how he did it; I only knew that every Christmas morning, without fail, a pile of brightly wrapped gifts that certainly hadn’t been there the day before appeared beneath the tree. Only logical explanation: Santa had a portable, detachable chimney that he carried around in the trunk of his sled, because there was no way he was ever going to allow someone else’s lack of architectural foresight to come between him and a child’s fondest Christmas wish.

When, shortly before my 6th birthday, my family moved from New York to South Florida—where I need hardly point out that chimneys were about as common as decent drivers—I never gave a thought to Santa’s access issues, because they weren’t a problem. But things began to look slightly suspicious when, one year, a distant relative presented me with a gift claiming it was from Santa and left at her house by mistake. Problem 1: Santa doesn’t make mistakes. Even in an age before Google Maps, GPS devices, and Iphones, Santa pretty much new his way around the world. Problem 2: Santa had given me a book with print the size of sugar ants, or so it looked to me. If Santa’s espionage skills were superb enough to track my every naughty and nice move, why didn’t he spot the problem in giving a legally blind child a book she couldn’t read?

Well, finally, my dreams of portable chimneys crumbled in a cloud of smoke and soot one Christmas Eve when I was about 9. My family had just finished our traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast—an exhibition of SeaWorld’s finest. As the adults settled around the tree for cocktails and conversation, we heard a distinctive tap at the door. As my younger brother was closest to it, Mom told him to answer the knock. (Without saying “Who is it first?” Either mom knew who was on the other side, or she didn’t believe in child kidnappers). As it turned out, the mysterious visitor on the other side of the door turned out to be none other than the big man himself, red suit, white beard and all. Mother, grandmother, and aunt expressed delight over this surprise; I wondered if still being out of bed would cost me last-minute points in the naughty-or-nice game.

As my brother and I posed for pictures with Santa, I observed something distinctly unusual: Dad was missing. How could he fail to be present during this picture-perfect moment of magic? But wait, I thought. He had to be somewhere in the house. I could smell his cologne. And…wait. The smell of Dad’s cologne was strongest…right beside me. Hmm, OK, maybe Mrs. Clause bought Santa a bottle of Royal Copenhagen last Christmas. (Or maybe, beneath the fragrance of fried fish and mens cologne, I smelled a rat). Very stealthily I slid my hand beneath the sleeve of Santa’s coat and discovered on his hand a ring that I didn’t need to see to identify, given the number of times I’d trailed my fingers over its carvings. Right, so not only did Santa favor the same brand of cologne as my father, he had also, according to his class ring, attended Fordham University. A brattier child would’ve yanked off Santa’s beard and declared Christmas officially ruined for the remainder of human existence. However, in a last desperate attempt to keep my childhood safely preserved in that protective membrane of magic and fantasy, I decided to play along, but it was a bit like the way Dorothy must have felt when she finally laid eyes on the great-and-powerful wizard. “Pay no attention to that man in the red suit, OK?” And so ended the great story of Santa clause and the credulous chapter of my childhood.

Did you believe in Santa as a child? How many years did it take you to follow the trail of cookie crumbs to the truth about the man in the red suit?

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3 Comments »

  1. guate6 said

    Did I believe in St. Nick? Yes.
    Do I still? Yes.
    Is there one fat man in red who goes around the world delivering presents? Not quite, he has agents that do it for him. Agents who do it in his name. That is, spread joy, love, giving, and good will.

    According to Fr. Gillespie, the the levels of enlightenment are: I love/believe in Santa Claus, I hate/don’t believe in Santa Claus, I am Santa Claus.

  2. One of our neighbors owned a small grocery store. He was always trying to have “events” to bring in customers. I remember one year my dad dressed up like Santa and walked around the store talking to children and handing out candy canes. When Santa bent down to talk with me, I recognized his eyes – and voice. He knew. I told Santa what I wanted for Christmas – and got my candy cane (only one). But I was really happy that Santa asked my dad to help him – that’s a pretty neat present for a kid. Nice post. Thanks for the memories. Merry Christmas

    • poetprodigy7 said

      It’s funny how many of us have similar stories, and whether we went along with it or not, it’s fun to try to keep the magic alive.

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