Santa’s Workshop

December 10th, 2011

Ok, so presumably when I was a kid I believed in Santa Claus. I say “presumably” because I don’t actually remember believing in him, or not believing in him, and I don’t remember “discovering” that there was no Santa. My parents have told me that I basically “just wasn’t that interested” in Santa himself. But they didn’t say I disbelieved, so, I guess, at some point I must have believed in Santa.

Now, my older son is at an age where he believes in Santa (apparently, a nursery school discussion concluded that there was a split over whether or not there were any gods, but pretty much everyone agreed there was a Santa). He asks a lot of questions, not because he’s suspicious, but just curious. That has prompted me to think about Santa more than I ever did before, and there’s something I don’t get.

Santa, says the conventional wisdom, lives at the North Pole (or Finland, as the Japanese believe). There he has a workshop manned by elves, making toys for boys and girls.

When I was a kid, I knew what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted GI Joe, Transformers, Robotech, Mask, He-Man. All of which, I knew, were made by companies like Mattel and Hasbro, and all of which, I knew, were available year-round in retail stores. These were clearly not home-made toys crafted in a workshop. And yet I don’t recall that part of the Santa story ever seeming weird to me. So Santa spent all year making toys for girls and boys, but I didn’t know a single kid, ever, who received a workshop toy. Every single person I knew received plastic toys from major retailers.

So why didn’t that part of the story seem fishy? At least with my son, there’s much less exposure to the Santa story here in Japan, so he just knows the basic outline: Santa lives up north, people aren’t sure where. He’s fat and has a big white beard and a red suit. On Christmas day he rides a sled pulled by reindeer through the sky, coming down chimneys (or through the front door, in houses without fireplaces) and putting presents under the tree for good little boys and girls. That’s about it. No elves, or Mrs. Claus. No coal for bad kids. And no workshop producing masses of unconsumed goods.

(Actually, there’s one more part of the Santa story my kid knows, handed down to me from my own dad: the existence of Anti Claus, Santa Claus’ brother. Santa brings toys to good girls and boys, but sometimes around Christmas kids are good so they’ll get presents, and then stop being good after they get them. Anti Claus’ job is to go to the houses of girls and boys who don’t keep being good after Christmas, and to take back the toys.)

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