Santa Weren’t No Sissy

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Holidays, humor, Life, remembrance, storytelling
Tags: , , , , ,

St. Nick, filled with holiday spirit...and a 40-watt light bulb

In the 1970’s in southern Minnesota, Santa lived in a little red house downtown. The place was small and fairly sparse, but with enough electricity to run the Christmas lights and a space heater. Even so, Santa sometimes wore coveralls when the Midwestern winters got too cold. Rumor had it that old Saint Nick used the biffy at Wallace’s Department Store and ate his meals at Jake’s Pizza, and maybe even indulged in some holiday spirits at the Blazer Bar on an occasional evening. When he wasn’t making toys or feeding reindeer or something.

In the days before shopping malls, Santa was a one-man show. He told you where to line up, called you in when it was your turn, kept track of your wish list, and handed you a candy cane before he hustled you out the door. And if you wanted your picture taken on Santa’s lap, that was your parents’ job. He didn’t need any bossy elves in pointy boots helping him; there wasn’t room in the little red house for them anyway.

Back before Facebook and Twitter and texting, Santa had to work to find out who was naughty or nice. He did it the old-fashioned way – with a complex network of spies, operatives and snitches. In the two months before Christmas, you suspected everybody of working for the Man in Red. Family members, neighbors, teachers, store clerks, complete strangers who looked at you funny. And that little girl Nora who lived in the big white house around the corner. You just knew she was ratting you out, payback for making her eat worms during the previous summer. Crybaby.Tattletale.

We’d spend the week before Christmas looking over our shoulders, making sure nobody was lurking, watching, waiting for us to screw up so they could tell old Santa, “When you get to the Collins house this year, buddy, just keep on going. Those girls don’t deserve nothing!” My sister and I even called a truce that week every year, neither of us willing to fight lest we ended up Christmas morning with an empty tree skirt and limp Christmas stockings.

These days, you can find Santa sitting on a throne in center court, surrounded by a dazzling Winter Wonderland display, assisted by an army of helpers who lead, direct, cajole, and charge you $10 for a digital picture of your smiling child bouncing on Kris Kringle’s knee. Compared to him, the Santa of 40 years ago must seem like just a cheery old bum in a little red house. God, I miss that guy.

Remember your first trip to see Santa Claus? Were you scared, excited, awestruck? Or (Eegads!) were you a non-believer?


  1. Santa LIVED in your town? Lucky. He just passed through ours, stationing himself in Warne’s Appliance Store. We froze out on the sidewalk, and then sweated in our snowsuits once we got inside. It is kind of a blur; I may have gone into a fugue state from the stress of meeting the man in red. Some Christmas eves I worked myself into such a panic–convinced I had fallen short of the “nice” list that year, that my mom would have to come into my room in the middle of the night and talk me down. So. Much. Power. I love Santa’s decor and wardrobe these days, but I am not sure he holds the same sway he used to. Although, you CAN still see a few panicked faces in the lines at the mall,

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