It’s always about this time of December that my thoughts turn to Saint Nicholas. I can’t explain it. You would think that his being such a culturally important figure, Santa would also enter my thoughts in, oh say, July or May, in much the same way that thoughts of the Pope, Augusto Pinochet or Tiger Woods occasionally pop into my head unbidden throughout the year. But, as far as I can recall, that doesn’t happen. Nope, on the Santa front, it is just one of those December things.
And, unlike many, I don’t conjure up the the Coca Cola version of Santa, the morbidly obese one, a condition caused partly by his habit of chugging sugar-laden Cokes from breakfast until the cocktail hour. This St. Nick would likely have such a caffeine buzz going that Mrs. Saint Nicholas, nee Earlene Goldberg–a long suffering saint in her own right–couldn’t get the old boy to calm down and make anything before 2 or 3 every morning. Of course, at the North Pole, it’s hard to keep to a regular circadian schedule what with 24 hours of daylight half the year and 24 of dark the other half. Seems to me that Santa ought to relocate to improve the efficiency of his operation. I’d suggest somewhere near the equator in southern Asia, closer to lead paint suppliers and where most of the toys are jobbed out to third-party providers anyway. It would way shorten his supply chain.
No, the St. Nick of whom I think is the one from the Clement Clarke Moore poem, the one that I read to my children so many times that I can still recall it from memory. I sometimes intentionally made mistakes when I read it to my son as a way to determine if he was asleep or just listening with his eyes closed. If it were the latter, he would stop me mid-poem, insist on a correction by reminding me of the right words. He would do this without opening his eyes…”Dad, it’s not, Vomit, Stupid, Dagwood and Nixon, it’s Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.”….or, “Dad, it’s not a ‘bowel, foul and smelly’ it’s a ‘bowlful of jelly'”. Tykes demand accuracy.
Moore’s poem describes Saint Nicholas as a “little old driver so lively and quick”, a description that runs quite contrary to the dressed-in-red slab of humanity that I saw today at the Mall, posing stoically with screaming toddlers and greedy pre-teens with lists of “demands” in hand. In fact, later, as I left the mall by my usual side door route, there was “Santa”, next to a dumpster, beard hanging from one ear, sucking on a Marlboro Light and looking haggard. I strongly doubt that this was the real Santa. He seemed neither lively nor quick and he was at least 250 lbs. past “little”. If this Santa tried to come down our chimney, there would be a prolonged interruption of his intended delivery schedule.
The poem also describes the flying reindeer as “tiny” and the sleigh as “miniature”, additional clues that if one were to plop the Mall Santa or the Coca Cola version onto the sleigh, there would likely be some serious issues with The International Brotherhood of Flying Reindeer, Local 001.
Moore was the scion of a prominent New York family. His father, Bishop Benjamin Moore, officiated at the inauguration of George Washington, invented lead paint and was personally responsible for the creation of the accent wall color “Tangy Tangerine” in 1808. But, as so often happens, I digress.
The magical St. Nick in Moore’s poem is dressed “all in fur, from his head to his foot”, a sartorial decision that has just caught the attention of PETA, an unusually irritating organization that plans to station members with buckets of fake blood on rooftops across the globe this year in hopes of creating a media event. My bet is that they just freeze their butts and get coal in their stockings. I suppose St . Nick could pick out some cold weather gear from REI but then he could easily be mistaken for any number of small, round southerners who pile on the down when the temperature plunges into the 50s.
Clement Moore’s Saint Nicholas is my kind of Santa: smokes a pipe (not Marlboro Lights), is a jolly elf, lively, quick, magical, wouldn’t think of letting relatively enormous and greedy children sit on his lap, wears leather, knows where all the “bad” girls live, has a license to fly, is droll, has twinkling eyes, merry dimples, rosy cheeks and a red nose. In brief, a very small W.C. Fields. Now we’re talking.
Observoid of the Day: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a stop at the ATM.