This has been circulating on the Net for
several years. It was first brought to my attention by someone
who noticed my name was mentioned in it. I must say that I'm
deeply proud of this--if Santa thinks my theories are more-or-less
right, I can't think of a better reference! I've tried to track
the author down to ask permission, but have been unsuccessful
in doing so, or even in verifying that I've got the name right.
I suspect that she won't mind us posting it here. --Isaac
We had a nice, serene kind of Solstice Circle.
No jingling bells or faked-out Christmas Carols. Soon after the
last coven member left, Jack was ready to pack it in.
"The baby's nestled all snug in her bed,"
he said with a yawn, "I think I'll go settle in for a long
I heaved a martyred sigh. He grinned unrepentantly,
kissed me, called me a grinch, and went to bed. I stayed up and
puttered around the house, trying to unwind. I sifted through
the day's mail, ditched the flyers urging us to purchase all
the Seasonal Joy we could afford or charge.
I opened the card from his parents. Another
sermonette: a manger scene and a bible verse, with a handwritten
note expressing his mother's fervent hope that God's love and
Christmas spirit would fill our hearts in this blessed season.
She means well, really. I amused myself by picking out every
Pagan element I could find in the card.
When the mail had been sorted, I got up and
started turning our ritual room back into a living room. As if
the greeting card had carried a virus, I found myself humming
Christmas carols. I turned on the classic rock station, but they
were playing that Lennon-Ono Christmas song. I switched stations.
The weatherman assured me that there was only a twenty percent
chance of snow. Then, by Loki, the deejay let Bruce Springsteen
insult my ears crooning, "yah better watch out, yah better
not pout." I tried the Oldies station. Elvis lives, and
he does Christmas songs. Okay, fine. We'll do classical -- no,
we won't. They're playing Handel's Messiah. Maybe the community
radio station would have something secular humanist.
"Ahora, escucharemos a Jose Feliciano
canta 'Feliz Navidad'."
I was getting annoyed. The radio doesn't usually
get this saturated with holiday mush until the twenty-fourth.
"This is too weird." I said to the
radio, "Cut that crap out."
The country station had some Kenny Rogers
Christmas tune, the first rock station had gone from John and
Yoko's Christmas song to Simon and Garfunkel's "Silent Night,"
and the other rock station still had Springsteen reliving his
childhood. "...I'm tellin' you why. Santa Claus is comin'
to town!" he bellowed.
I was about to pick out a nice secular CD
when there was a knock at the door.
Now, it could have been a coven member who'd
forgotten something. It could have been someone with car trouble.
It could have been any number of things, but it certainly couldn't
have been a stout guy in a red suit--snowy beard, rosy cheeks,
and all--backed by eight reindeer and a sleigh. I blinked, wondered
crazily where Rudolph was, and blinked again. There were nine
reindeer. Our twenty-percent chance of snow had frosted the dead
grass and was continuing to float down in fat flakes.
"Hi, Frannie." he said warmly, "I've
"I'm stone cold sober, and you don't
He looked at me with a mixture of sorrow and
compassion and sighed heavily.
"That's why I miss you, Frannie. Can
I come in? We need to talk."
I couldn't quite bring myself to slam the
door on this vision, hallucination, or whatever. So I let him
in, because that made more sense then letting all the cold air
in while I argued with someone who wasn't there.
As he stepped in, a thought crossed my mind
about various entities needing an invitation to get in houses.
He flashed me a smile that would melt the polar caps.
"Don't you miss Christmas, Frannie?"
"No." I said flatly, "Apparently
you don't see me when I'm sleeping and waking these days. I haven't
been Christian for years."
"Oh, now don't let that stop you. We
both know this holiday's older than that. Yule trees and Saturnalia
and here-comes-the-sun, doodoodendoodoo."
I raised an eyebrow at the Beatles reference,
then gave him my standard sermonette on the appropriation and
adulteration that made Christmas no longer a Pagan holiday. I
had done my homework. I listed centuries, I named names--St.Nicholas
"In the twentieth century version,"
I assured him, "Christmas is two parts crass commercialism
mixed with one part blind faith in a religion I rejected years
ago." I gave him my best lines, the ones that had convinced
my coven to abstain from Christmassy cliches. My hallucination
sat in Jack's favorite chair, nodding patiently at me.
"And you," I added nastily,"come
here talking about ancient customs when you--in your current
form--were invented in the nineteenth century by, um...Clement
He laughed, a rolling, belly-deep chuckle
unlike any department- store Santa I'd ever heard.
"Of course I change my form now and then
to suit fashion. Don't you? And does that stop you from being
yourself?" he said, and asked me if I remembered Real
Magic, by Isaac Bonewits.
I gaped at him for a moment, then caught myself.
"This is like 'Labyrinth', right? I'm having a dream that
pretends to be real, but is only made from pieces of things in
my memory. You don't look a thing like David Bowie."
"Bonewits has this Switchboard Theory."
Santa went on amiably, "The energy you put into your beliefs
influences the real existence of the archetypal--oh, let me put
it simpler: " 'in the beginning, Man created God.' Ian Anderson."
He lit a long-stemmed pipe. The tobacco had
a mild and somehow Christmassy smell, and every puff sent up
a wreath of smoke. "I'm afraid it's a bit more complicated
than Bonewits tells it, but that's close enough for mortals.
Are you with me so far?"
"Oh, sure." I lied as unconvincingly
Santa sighed heavily.
"When's the last time you left out hot
tea and cookies for me?"
"When I figured out my parents were eating
"Frannie, Frannie. Remember pinda balls,
"Rice balls left as offerings for ancestors
"Do Hindus really believe that the ancestors
and gods eat pinda balls?"
"All right, y'got me there. They say
that spirits consume the spiritual essence, then mortals can
have what's left."
"Mm-hm." Santa smiled at me compassionately
through his snowy beard.
I rallied quickly. "What about the toys?
I know for a fact they aren't made by you and a bunch of non-union
"Oh, that's quite true. Manufacturing
physical objects out of magical energy is terribly expensive
and breaks several laws of Nature--She only allows us to do that
on special occasions. It certainly couldn't be done globally
and annually. Now, the missus and the Elves and I really do have
a shop at the North Pole. Not the sort of thing the Air Force
would ever find. What we make up there is what makes this time
a holiday, no matter what religion it's called."
"Don't tell me," I said, rolling
my eyes, "you make the sun come back."
"Oh my, no. The solar cycle stuff, the
Reason For The Season, isn't my department. My part is making
it a holiday. We make a mild, non-addictive psychedelic thing
called Christmas spirit. Try some."
He dipped his fingers in a pocket and tossed
red-gold-green-silver glitter at me. I could have ducked. I don't
know why I didn't.
It smelled like snow and pine needles, and
cedar chips in the fireplace. It smelled like fruitcake, cornbread
savory herbal stuffing, like that foamy white stuff you spray
on the window with stencils. It felt like a crisp wind, Grandma's
hugs, fuzzy new mittens, pine needles scrunching under my slippers.
I saw twinkle lights, mistletoe in the doorway, smiling faces
from years gone by.
Several Christmas carols played almost simultaneously
in a kind of medley. I fought my way back to my living room and
glared sternly at the hallucination in Jack's chair.
"Fun stuff. Does the DEA know about this?"
"Oh, Frannie. Why are you such a hard
case? I told you it's non-addictive and has no harmful side effects.
Would Santa Claus lie to you?"
I opened my mouth and closed it again. We
looked at each other a while.
"Can I have some more of that glittery
"Mmmm. I think you need something stronger.
Try a sugarplum."
I tasted rum ball. Peppermint. Those hard
candies with the picture all the way through. Mama's favorite
fudge. A chorus line of Christmas candies danced through my mouth.
The Swedish Angel Chimes, run on candle power, say tingatingatingating.
Mama, with a funny smile, promised to give Santa my letter.
Greeting cards taped on the refrigerator door.
We rode through the tree farm on a straw-filled trailer pulled
by a red and green tractor, looking for a perfect pine. It was
so big, Daddy had to cut a bit off so the star wouldn't scrape
the ceiling. Lights, ornaments, tinsel. Daddy lifted me up to
the mantle to hang my stocking. My dolls stayed up to see Santa
Claus, and in the morning they all had new clothes. Grandma carried
in platters with the world's biggest Christmas dinner. Joey's
Christmas puppy chased my Christmas kitten up the tree and it
would have fallen over but Daddy held it while Mama got the kitten
out. Daddy said every bad word there was but he kept laughing
anyway. I sneaked my favorite plastic horse into the nativity
scene, between the camels and the donkey.
I came back to reality slowly, with a silly
smile on my face and a tickly feeling behind my eyes like they
wanted to cry. The phrase "visions of sugarplums" took
on a whole new meaning.
"How long has it been," Santa asked,
"since you played with a nativity set?"
"But it symbolizes--"
"The winter-born king. The sacred Mother
and her sun-child. Got a problem with that? You could redecorate
it with pentagrams if you like, they'll look fine. As for the
Christianization, I've heard who you invoke at Imbolc."
"But Bridgid was a Goddess for centuries
before the Catholic Church--oh." I crossed my arms and tried
to glare at him, but failed. "You're a sneaky old Elf, y'know?"
"The term is 'jolly old Elf.' Care for
I did. I tasted gingerbread. My first nip
of soy eggnog the way the grown-ups drink it. Fresh sugar cookies,
shaped like trees and decked with colored frosting. Dad had been
laid off, but we managed a lot of cheer. They told us Christmas
would be "slim pickings." Joey and I smiled bravely
when Mama brought home that spindly spruce. We loaded down our
"Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" with every light and
ornament it could hold. Popcorn and cranberry strings for the
outdoor trees. Mistletoe in the hall: plastic mistletoe, real
kisses. Joey and I snipped and glued and stitched and painted
treasures to give as presents.
We agonized over our "Santa" letters...by
now we knew where the goodies came from, and we tried to compromise
between what we longed for and they thought they could afford.
Every day we hoped the factory would reopen. When Joey's dog
ate my mitten, I wasn't brave. I knew that meant I'd get mittens
for Christmas, and one less toy. I cried.
On December twenty-fifth we opened our presents
ve-ery slo-wly, drawing out the experience. We made a show of
cheer over our socks and shirts and meager haul of toys. I got
red mittens. We could tell Mama and Daddy were proud of us for
being so brave, because they were grinning like crazy.
"Go out to the garage for apples."
Mama told us, "We'll have apple pancakes."
I don't remember having the pancakes. There
was a dollhouse in the garage. No mass-produced aluminum thing
but a homemade plywood dollhouse with wall-papered walls and
real curtains and thread-spool chairs. My dolls were inside,
with newly sewn clothes. Joey was on his knees in front of a
plywood barn with hay in the loft. His old farm implements had
new paint. Our plastic animals were corralled in Popsicle stick
fences. The garage smelled like apples and hay, the cement was
bone-chilling under my slippers, and I was crying.
My knees were drawn up to my chest, arms wrapped
around them. My chest felt tight, like ice cracking in sunshine.
Santa offered me a huge white handkerchief. When all the ice
in my chest had melted, he cleared his throat. He was pretty
"Want to come sit on my lap and tell
me what you want for Christmas?"
"You've already given it to me."
But I sat on his lap anyway, and kissed his rosy cheek until
he did his famous laugh.
"I'd better go now, Frannie. I have other
stops to make, and you have work to do."
"Right. I'd better pop the corn tonight,
it strings best when it's stale."
I let him out the door. The reindeer were
pawing impatiently at the moon-kissed new-fallen snow. I'd swear
Rudolph winked at me.
"Don't forget the hot tea and cookies."
"Right. Uh, December twenty-fourth, or
Solstice, or what?"
He shrugged. "Whatever night you expect
me, I'll be there. Eh, don't wait up. Visits like this are tightly
rationed. Laws of Nature, y'know, and She's strict with them."
"Gotcha. Thanks, Santa." I kissed
his cheek again. "Happy Holidays."
The phrase had a nice, non-denominational
ring to it. I thought I'd call my parents and in-laws soon and
try it out on them.
Santa laid his finger aside of his nose and
"Blessed be, Frannie."
The sleigh soared up, and Santa really did
exclaim something. It sounded like old German. Smart-aleck Elf.
When I closed the door, the radio was playing
Jethro Tull's "Solstice Bells."
A Postscript from Isaac: I suppose there
are a number of people who will laugh at me when I say that Santa
is real. As I explained to my son Arthur when he was around ten,
Santa is as real as Thor and Bridget and Ganesha. He's the God
of Generosity and a divine patron of kids. Those folks you see
in the malls and department stores? They're His priests and priestesses.
When you sit on their laps, they "draw down the Santa"
so that your words are heard by the deity and He can reply. Sound
silly? Just ask people who've done that gig a few years about
"weird coincidences" that have occurred while a truly
believing child was talking to them...