Cheating Santa – 12/10/2021
I am writing this on St. Nick Day. Actually, it’s the real St. Nicholas feast day. He was a Bishop in what is now Turkey who died way back in the middle of the fourth century. But I am writing about the secular Santa – the one who brings toys and goodies to good little girls and boys, and goes “Ho, Ho, Ho!” I’m thinking of Santa today because it’s time to get something off my chest.
The year was about 1963, the date was roughly mid-December. The location was in the parking lot just outside of Kresge’s Store on the west side of Green Bay. More precisely, my mother, my brother Mike and I were standing in a line waiting to see Santa Claus. I can remember feeling kind of excited, kind of scared and kind of confused with this being my first encounter with Santa Claus, who apparently had the ability to get you anything you wanted for Christmas. I think part of my apprehension was that even at that age the trick in all this was painfully obvious – if you didn’t get what you asked for it wasn’t Santa’s fault; you just must not have been good enough during the year to get what you wanted. The fix seemed in.
Santa was waiting inside of a little shed that was out in the parking lot. I think we were all of heartier stock back then. Of course, even though we could see our breath and there was snow on the ground, this was nothing for someone who lived at the North Pole, or in Green Bay. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I remember Santa’s elf and doorkeeper telling my brother and I that it was our turn to go in.
Mike, being older, got to go first. That turned out for my advantage and for nearly sixty years of shame. Because when Mike finished with his list for Santa, Santa told Mike that he could choose a candy cane from a big wooden barrel, and if it had a winning tag on the wrapper, he could take the tag inside Kresge’s and trade it for one of the prizes. I watched Mike reach in the barrel and pull out a little candy cane. It was just a plain clear cellophane wrapper – no special tag for him.
I don’t really remember my turn on Santa’s lap. I was more intrigued by the possibility of picking a candy cane with a winning tag attached. A prize in hand today seemed more real than wishing for something that I might get on Christmas Day. And so, Santa sent me off to the big wooden barrel. It was too tall for me so they tipped the barrel so I could reach down into it. I didn’t mean to cheat, but my eyes immediately locked onto a candy cane with a little red tag taped onto the wrapper. It did feel like I was cheating though, so at first, I glanced away. But it was just too tempting for me, so I quickly snatched the candy cane with the red tag. “A winner!” It was Santa. “Now go in the store and get your prize!”
Mom, Mike and I went into the store and all along one wall they had a huge display of all the prizes. And the grand prize was a shiny, new, two-wheeled bike. It was red, and it had streamers hanging from the handlebars. I couldn’t believe it – a brand new bike! My heart was pounding.
A clerk took the winning tag from me, “A red tag!” He said excitedly. Then he reached down under the counter and came out with a little cardboard box. He held it out to me with a smile. “Red tags win a slinky – how about that young man?” I took the little box. I didn’t even know what a slinky was. It certainly was not a brand new shiny red bike. I am sure that I thanked him, because my mom would have made sure that I did, but I didn’t feel like thanking him. I felt like I got swindled.
I took the slinky out of the box when we got home. The original slinky was coiled metal. The little instruction booklet showed a few tricks that the slinky could do such as walking down the steps. I took it over to the steps leading upstairs and I gave it a nudge to start it. It went down two or three steps but then suddenly coiled in on itself and stopped – lifeless. I picked it up. It looked like a hopeless jumble, but I began to uncoil the mess as best as I could. I finally did get it all unraveled but it didn’t sit right – there was a twist in the metal coil about in the middle.
I tried it on the steps again, but with that twist it just wouldn’t extend all the way down to the next step. I put the slinky back in its box. “That’s a shame”, Mom said.
I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t even disappointed. I knew I got what you get when you try to cheat Santa.