||Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
Recall Your Christmas Past to Sweeten Your Christmas Present
He’s making a list; checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.
Wouldn’t it be great if jolly old St. Nick were really coming to town? President Bush and his gang of economic advisors would certainly think so. Just think what it would do for our international balance of payments. Our economy.
With all the freebies in Santa’s sack stamped with Made in the North Pole, for one big day we’d not be reminded that everything these days is made in China. Nor would we be dreading next month when all the bills start coming in for our impulsive holiday purchases.
Ah, the kids have it made. They can be hellions for 11 months of the year, angelic for three weeks in December — and be pretty much assured that a generous and forgiving Santa will reward them with at least some if not most, or all, of the goodies on that long list. You might say he tends to absolve and forget when he makes out his list.
Other positive things can be said for the jolly old fellow in the red suit. UPS, Federal Express, the U.S. Postal Service and all others in the business of delivery surely envy Santa: Who’s ever heard of him missing his promised date to fill the stockings and stack the toys under the tree?
While doing that, he finds time to munch on the cookies and sip the drinks left for him by youngsters who believe a warm welcome will be returned with an extra toy or two. He does all of that, so we were told when we were boys and girls, at the stroke of midnight. Just think: He visits every house in the whole world at about the same time; that’s quite a feat indeed, even considering the changes in time zones.
Ah, why is it that somewhere along the early years of life’s path our belief in Santa Claus evaporates as we mature enough to question the logic of elves churning out toys to be transported by eight reindeer — or is it nine, if one is to count Rudolph? Perhaps our holiday spirit could be appreciably embellished if in the next few days we took time from our busy schedules to think back to Christmases past as we finalize plans, and shop, for the Christmas ahead.
If you’re old enough to read this newspaper, you will appreciate how much has changed since you hung your stocking on Christmas Eve. The longer the time between then and now, the greater the changes. But of all the holidays of the year, still none can match December 25 as the one for old and young alike.
Try to recapture the feeling of excitement, anticipation and joy that prevailed the last big night when you truly believed — or hesitated to doubt — that a sleigh would land on the rooftop of your home bearing a driver so lively and quick with curls of smoke rising from his stubby pipe. Remember that evening? I’ll wager any gift I might get next week that already at least a faint smile has come across your face.
I was lucky. I had no older siblings to prematurely crush my belief in Santa. I was also lucky because I had younger siblings, which meant that somewhere around age eight I realized it was appropriate for the sake of younger brothers and sisters that I not mention the growing doubts that stirred within me.
With the boys during recess at the one-room Cherry Valley schoolhouse, I could poo-hoo belief in Santa. But not at home, where I was swept along with the tide of excitement, anticipation and joy that prevailed among the younger Burton kids. As I look back, their enthusiasm and innocent beliefs tacked on another Christmas or two for me before within myself I dared repudiate St. Nick.
I was a country kid on a farm; there were few stores around, and I had just one day of Christmas shopping in the city. One dollar would have to buy 10 gifts, and five- and 10-cent stores made that possible in the days of the Great Depression. They were then what the dollar stores are today.
Though times were tough, Mother somehow budgeted through much of the year to see that there would be toys for all her children; clothing would have been more practical, but Christmas was Christmas, and what’s Christmas for kids without toys? Or oranges and nuts in stockings — real stockings, not like the fancy ones taken from storage this time of year to be hung at the fireplace.
Christmas was the only time of the year I appreciated wearing those corduroy knickers that emitted an audible swish as one leg brushed against the other while walking. I yearned for long pants as some boys wore, but not at stocking-hanging time. Knickers mean long cotton socks, and seeing that longer stockings meant more room for fruit, nuts, candy and a small gift, I was one up on those long-pants boys on Christmas morning.
Sister Lorna was only a toddler though old enough to appreciate the bounty of Christmas. She had only small socks, so Mother suggested I loan her my other stocking for the occasion. Sister Ruth, 18 months younger than I, hung her own freshly washed white cotton stocking — and like me was thankful that one day of the year that long stockings were in vogue. By the time sister Ticy and brother John came along, the Depression was winding down, and they could hang store-bought decorative big stockings designed to hold dolls, wind-up cars and the like.
The End of Belief
Then came the moment I fully realized a man in a red suit didn’t fill those stockings. Mother had taken us to a nearby town as she finished her shopping, and Santa was making an appearance at the New York Department Store, big by the standards of the time. It had two floors, though the upper one wasn’t very big; other than Christmastime, it was used for storage.
Unlike today, there weren’t a lot of Santas back then, so this was a special occasion. Kids came from all the surrounding communities to make their pleas for toys. Santa was mobbed, yet I managed to squeeze through the throng to get close — close enough that I discovered the jolly old man wasn’t really writing names and toys in his notebook. Why, he was just scribbling irregular lines across its pages.
I didn’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to grasp the hoax. If this was the real Santa — and Mother said it was — then there was no list. And if there was no list, there was no Santa who kept it. But at least there were toys. Also siblings, whose dreams need not be tarnished. And mother, who need not learn that her eldest was no longer a believer.
Believe what you will this Christmas, but think back to the days when you knew St. Nick would visit your home on that special night. One is never too old to appreciate the words in that famed letter from a Richmond newspaper editor reassuring a young girl named Virginia that, yes, there is a Santa. Enjoy your Christmas Past to better enjoy your Christmas Present. Enough said …