If I were Santa Claus, I wouldn't bring toys to anyone. No candy either. Who appreciates toys and candy? In today's world, we pile our toys in closets and stuff them in chests. Our children's beds are full of stuffed Muppet Babies, their floor is littered with Lego and Matchbox cars. We park our children in front of our oversized, flat screen televisions, and together we play our expensive games. Who cares? Santa? So what? Candy overflows the bins at Walmart and Save A Lot. It beckons from register displays. M & M candies have their own toy line, tee shirts, and gifts. Your girlfriend can snuggle up with a giant peanut butter cup. What does she care, for Santa Claus?
I walked out of my shamble down trailer on the way to work, a bag of trash to toss into the dumpster on the way. A man digs in the dumpster, pulling out cans. "Oh, do you want some more cans? I don't get to the recycling center often enough. Wait here!" I run inside, and back in a flash with a bag full of crushed cans. The man accepts them with surprise. We briefly talk, and I have to go, I'm late. He's a combat vet, retired many years. His kids are grown and moved away. He makes enough on the cans he scrounges to keep gas in his old truck. A veteran. A military retiree. He's scrounging for cans. People never stop to ask who he is. I learn he has earned top honors. His highest rank was Master Sergeant. Master Sergeant, two grades above mine. He's scrounging for cans. If I were Santa Claus, would I slip an orange in this man's sock? He showed up every week for three months. Then he stopped showing up. Did he come into money? Did his children come through for him? If I were Santa Claus, I would slip into his house, and make sure he took his blood pressure medicine. If I were Santa Claus.
As I walked my dogs to the Food City, feeling beaten down... my truck repossessed... I walk past a shanty town hidden in the brambles behind the apartment complex. My dogs take an interest but I pull them away. The danger is real. I wait outside with the dogs while my son runs in to get the ten dollars worth of groceries that must last us a week. Two homeless looking fellows are sitting on the air conditioning unit, eating pizza they'd just bought from the LIttle Caesars. They have a dog with them, and it barks at my dogs. "I'm sorry,' one says. 'Be good, Lady." I return that it's fine. Mine bark too. I avoid making further conversation. The next day, the police are clearing out the little squatter's city. I see one of the fellows from the day before, hopping. He has only one leg, and no prosthetic. I am embarrassed to see the man in his situation. We made a connection yesterday, as equals, and today he is embarrassed that I know he is one social position beneath mine. He looks away from my gaze and I continue on to the Food City to get my dog food and rice. If I were Santa Claus, I would not bring the man some useless junk. He has too much useless detritus, and no place to put it. Where did he go, when they ran him out? They arrest them overnight, but then... then where? If I were Santa Claus, surely I could provide him a leg to stand on. Surely, he deserves that dignity, doesn't he, Santa?
When my son was a baby, he was diagnosed with cancer. After the surgery, we spent most of every day, visiting him in his hospital room. I changed his diaper, wetted his lips, held him when they let me, tended his IV. I apologized to the nurses for always being under foot, yet I felt guilty that I couldn't be there more. I had to work and it was a long drive from Fort Sheridan to Chicago Children's. The nurses were understanding. "At least you come." They said. For a while, there was another little boy in my son's room. A tiny baby, much smaller than my plump little cherub. They said he was actually older, by a few weeks. I never saw his mother. The nurses said she was just a teen, and poor. Her mother had to bring her, and she worked. So she only got to come every other day, for an hour or two. The poor little mite barely cried. He had gotten used to being left alone. Once, when he cried, my mother comforted him. Someone should, how could she not? She asked. If I were Santa Claus, his mother would have a ride to see her son, even if I had to bring her in my sleigh. Why doesn't Santa seem to care about these little ones? Why does he bring toys to the children down the hall, while this child's teddy has fallen to the floor, and he has not even a balloon tied to his crib?
You can keep your toys, your electronics, your Black Friday deals, your candy, your gingerbread and spice. You can keep your fruitcake, your holly and ivy. You can keep your wrapping paper and ribbons and bows. My tree is barely decorated. My yard is less gaudy this year. Santa seems to have lost his knack. Everyone is angry, even though we are more spoiled than ever. People complain about the words store greeters use to wish them well. Yet they haven't time to wish a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to the man in front of Walmart, collecting for charity. They complain about the speed of their computers that they use to send their thank you notes. A woman on Shark Tank is selling a business that charges children's parents who want their children to receive a letter and video from Santa Claus himself. Sending the letter is not enough. Receiving a note back from the North Pole is passe. Not even a phone call will do. No, they must have some of the big man's time on video for their precious child, and they will pay for it. Some stores have "fast pass" lines for the rich to visit Santa just a little bit quicker than the riff-raff. Why do I see the woman who spends the money for the wrapping paper, the ten foot inflatable Santa, and the special Elf on the Shelf kit, walking past the Salvation Army kettle without breaking stride? Does she even know who Santa is? Santa has been forgotten and his likeness stolen to prop up our greed.
If I were Santa Claus, the kettle would be full to brimming. The children who sent their letters would receive no reply but the answer to their fondest wishes. If I were Santa Claus, the Angel Tree would be bare, and the wishes it represented would be sitting beneath, wrapped in paper with a card for each boy or girl. If I was Santa Claus, I'd bring double gifts to everyone who is ugly, who doesn't have a friend, who has never had a girlfriend or boyfriend, who has lost someone they love, who is addicted, or sick, or depressed, or had to walk to work no matter the weather. If I was Santa Claus, the song playing over the store's speakers wouldn't be "Last Christmas" or "Jingle Bells" or "Silent Night". It would be "I'm sorry." I'm sorry for bringing you a doll, when you wanted your electricity turned back on. I'm sorry I brought the rich kid down the block the Playstation you wanted. I'm sorry you're sick and alone at Christmas. I'm sorry you have to work to sell more stuff no one really needs and doesn't appreciate while others are home with their families, and even sorrier that you need that money, and wouldn't take the time off if you could. I'm sorry that I've got it wrong for so many years, giving gifts to folks who don't appreciate or need them. I won't do that any more. I'm sorry for all the letters you wrote, that never got answered. I'm sorry for the Soldiers and line workers and truckers and convenience store clerks and ambulance drivers and firefighters and every person who has to work on Christmas day to keep us safe and happy. For them, I would bring peace, a day of no power outages or car crashes or burning houses, a day off or day of quiet out of the cold to watch old specials with their feet propped up.
Does Santa Claus have the power to fix these things, once a year, on December 24th? When we wake on Christmas day, does he bring us joy and peace on Earth? Why doesn't he?
If Santa does not have this power, then who does?
Why don't they?
Why don't we?