December 7, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Lady Claus

By |2018-03-21T18:47:07+01:00December 14th, 2011|Lifestyle Archive|
Seven rooms, seven trees.

et me begin by saying that Christmas is not my “thing.” More my speed is the Fourth of July: Sunshine, grilled hamburgers and cold beer. No fuss. No muss. Christmas, if I can borrow a word from Yiddish, is a pain in the tuchas. But my mother loves it. Christmas is her thing. She wears Christmas sweaters (which she considers to be works of art) beginning on December 1 and puts them away on New Year’s Day. She decorates the outside of her Victorian-style home with enough tiny white lights to earn thank you cards from Potomac Electric Power Company and Baltimore Gas & Electric.

But she doesn’t stop there. Every ground floor room is decorated with a different theme and each room has it’s own tree. There are seven in all. I call this a Christmas enema. Christmas up the… well, you get it.

You probably also get that my minimalist holiday style is a direct rebellion against my upbringing. Bah Humbug. But I’ve recently had to rethink my Grinch-like ways. The reason is my kids. They get Christmas and they want Christmas, including all the commercialism and consumption, all the sparkle and the folklore. So I anteed up. I got décor and lights, toys and tinsel.

But I had no folklore or fantasy to go with it. I was stuck on that part.

Then I had a conversation with my girlfriend:

“What’s your stance on Santa Claus?” I asked her. She was raised a Jew.

“I don’t know, it seems so strange,” she said tentatively.

“Strange!” I exclaimed. “It’s downright creepy! The notion that a fat elfin man breaks into your house while you are sleeping and brings you toys is bizarre!”

I told her that my younger sister and I couldn’t stand one another when we were kids but were brought together once a year because of our Santa phobia. We vowed to sleep together — for protection, petrified but unified.

“So you aren’t going to do the whole Santa thing?”

“I don’t know. Mickey Hickey never did it.”

Mickey was our neighbor and our best friends’ mother. She was a devout Catholic, originally from Czechoslovakia, who celebrated Christmas sensibly and with less schmaltz. While she told her children that the spirit of St. Nick was alive on Christmas, she also told them that parents put presents under the tree.

“That seems like a really great way to explain it,” said the girlfriend.

“I know, right?”

“So you aren’t going to do the whole Santa thing?”

“I don’t know.”

And I didn’t. I was still stuck.

I then went to pick up my kids from school. That afternoon, they acted like stark raving lunatics. It began with the usual — running, roaring and wrestling — and ended with the usual — the victor out of breath; the loser in tears. I’d had it.

“That’s it!” I yelled. “If you all can’t behave then Santa Claus cannot bring you any toys!”

They stopped and stared, awaiting my next words. I suddenly possessed the power of bribery.

“Santa knows everything. He only brings toys to good boys. And you are good boys — but you have to show him how good you are. He is watching…”

As I continued, their eyes darted to the window. “… And he wants to see only good listening and good behavior!”

I’d done it. My knee-jerk reaction to rambunctious behavior had put me knee deep in Santa land. To lighten the mood, I started singing “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” That was the big closer. They seemed soothed and unafraid.

In the days that followed, the mere mention of St. Nick acted like a shock collar on a border collie. It stopped them in their tracks. Though possibly psychologically damaging, this was also genius!

I called my friend the Jew.

“You gotta do it. It’s amazing! This is the trump card of parenting and you only have a few weeks a year to use it!”

This had me giddy, like, well, a kid on Christmas morning! I started to get into the spirit. We began to sing carols. We watched the 1964 classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” which was clearly produced before Anderson Cooper and Lady Gaga came out against bullying (even Chris Kringle was a real jerk-off in that special). We wrote letters to Santa. The kids wanted a racecar track and Mario Brothers, I asked for a pair of Fendi platform booties and that Italians start paying taxes so that my kids could live in a more efficient and integritous — think integrity — country.

I had succumbed to what my birthright (or at least some fanatical affinity) had seemed to give me. Now our house is humming with holiday cheer. I am actually embracing my festive side. But I do draw the line. I won’t wear the sweaters.

About the Author:

Kissy Dugan's "Parenthood" column ran from 2007 through 2016.