The whole notion of Santa Claus had always creeped me out. I wish I could say that, as an adult, this skepticism has lifted—but it hasn't. This is an awful curse, particularly when you're a child and Santa is supposed to be something mystical and joyous. Unfortunately, my childhood personality was akin to a deeply Catholic Woody Allen (if such a thing should exist), and I never ran short on paranoias as a result.
I vividly remember lying in bed as a child on Christmas Eve, worried that Santa would peek his oversized head in my window at 3 a.m. to meet my deeply horrified, yet catatonic gaze. To put yourself in the shoes of, let's say, seven-year-old Leah, just imagine you're in one of those awful ADT Security commercials. You know the ones I'm talking about—where some totally innocent folks are attempting to have a nice night of vegging in front of the 'ol tube when suddenly the mom spots a black-clad thief out of the corner of her eye. Night ruined!
- ILLUSTRATION BY MEGHAN MURPHY
Like those innocent folks, all I was trying to do was have a nice, peaceful Christmas Eve's sleep and that asshole Santa was ruining it for me. Just get in and get out, man. Take the cookie, leave the presents. It's really not that complicated.
The terrible thing is, even today, I don't think these childhood fears were particularly unfounded. Every year, parents tell their children that some guy they don't know is going to break into their house, take their cookies, and possibly leave them some gifts. Oh, and also, he gets to your house via flying reindeer.
First of all, what happened to stranger danger? We're all taught to beware of those candy and gift-yielding adults for fear of abduction as children, but suddenly this guy is okay? Seems a bit hypocritical to me, Mom and Dad. I felt like this Santa guy shouldn't be able to just break into all of these houses without even trying. What if he was actually a delinquent? What if he stepped in reindeer shit and tracked it all over your carpet? Let's be honest: What do any of us really know about the man?
And steam-cleaning is expensive.
Second of all, flying reindeer? Do we live in a universe where I'm expected to believe that this is okay? Did Santa have to earn his reindeer-driving license or is this just something we accept to be a career-appropriate skill? Is the possibility of reindeer poo bombs not a serious concern? In addition, that bright red nose he's always pictured with makes me think that maybe he's had just a few too many cups of eggnog to be driving those reindeer into town. Is flying under the influence not a problem?
And it doesn't stop there. As children, we're expected to get excited about a visit to see Mall Santa, easily the the most evil of all the Santas. Although I was a relatively naïve child, I must have seen a loophole somewhere in the whole a Santa in every mall thing. My parents explained that Santa's elves dressed up as him and delivered our messages to the main man. Whoa, whoa, whoa. So now Santa has look-alikes? Who is he, Saddam Hussein? Who is this guy hiding from that he needs that many clones running around? Seems suspicious to me.
On top of that, Mall Santas were exactly what I never wanted to experience: Santa in the flesh. The fact that this guy that I feared would break into my house was suddenly there, alive, and breathing was unacceptable. The myth is taken to an even creepier level with Mall Santas. Not only will we tell you this tall-tale about Santa, but look! He exists! And he's terrifying! As a child, I couldn't deal with the fact that this impossible specimen was brought to life. It just wasn't logical! It wasn't awe-inspiring or exciting or magical. To me, it was merely disconcerting. After one solitary visit to sit on the evil man's lap, my parents decided maybe we were better off not visiting Santa. Maybe they were afraid, too! Or maybe it was my noisy, dramatic sobbing as we approached his big, red velvet throne that did them in. I guess I'll never really know.
As an adult, I've made the difficult transition into a lapsed Catholic Woody Allen type: A bit braver and smarter, but still full of unwarranted, albeit fresh, paranoias. As a result of my newfound adulthood bravery I've, of course, learned to hinder my fear of 'ol Saint Nick. I've done this because, quite frankly, being afraid of a silly mythical figure is pretty unacceptable for a grown-up woman. In addition, stifling my countless childhood paranoias has made way for some very exciting grown-up fears! Will I be able to pay my student loans back after school? Am I eating too much soy? Has that rusty white van with the tinted windows really been following me for five minutes now?
Though, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to walking a tiny bit faster past the center of the mall during the cheery month of December. I will most likely be seen with my head down, and my eyes toward the floor. If you ask me, I'll tell you I'm just not that great in crowds. That's what an adult would say; a paranoid adult, but an adult nonetheless.
"What? No. There's no way I'm actually avoiding the glance of the enthroned, wicked man in the bright red suit", I would tell you. "That, after all, would just be silly."