Thanks to Rob, we now have Day 8 And a Half of the Christmas Blog Party! So, two birds, yeah?
First, I must say that I am shocked, shocked, at Danielle's gang-murder of Santa: it's like Kenny in South Park. Bring him back post after post, just so we can slay him again, lose innocence all over again. Way to go, Dani. What're you killing next year? Baby seals? Unicorns? The other day I overheard her telling the devil that she next year she might do a series on first dead pets. But I'm here to talk about Santa, not Danielle in all her evilness.
Now, the funny thing about Santa in my family is that right from the get-go, my dad, a Pastor, never really let us believe that Santa was real. We made good and sure that the Santa Myth was fully undermined, by opening presents on Christmas Eve, before Santa had made his rounds. We were reminded that "Jesus is the reason for the season," and each December there was "Real Christmas" and then there was "secular Christmas." Real Christmas was the holiness of the advent candle, the deep yearning of "O come, O come Emmanuel" and the transcendent satisfaction of longing, in "Silent Night" leading into the elation of "Joy To The World" - one of my first bliss-outs.
Santa was part of the "other" christmas -- the one with lights and bells and colors and drippy fun songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Winter Wonderland," and the climax of Santa's Christmas was not the nativity, but an orgiastic celebration of materialism: the opening of presents.
So when I was little, Santa was never much more than a tack-on that allowed the irreligious masses to celebrate Christmas, even without recognizing what Christmas is really about, or acknowledging that it mostly, really, belonged to us Christians, who hadn't missed the point. These days, I see things a bit differently. So instead of telling the story of when and how I stopped believing in Santa, I'll tell you the story of how I started.
My coming to believe in Santa is a slow, complex recipe with tons of ingredients and years of simmering, so here we go:
Step 1: Some time in university, a really tiresome crew of cynics seemed to follow me from class to class, poking holes in every assertion anybody made. In response to that cynical readiness to dress-down anything they came across, and reading some philosophers whose ideas amounted to the same: that arrogant prick poking holes in everything, destabilizing everything, to the point that nobody dared to speak up, lest they too be shot down (Jaques Derrida, I'm looking at you), I decided, basically, to go against that, because screw you, Derrida, and screw you, you arrogant smirks in the back row. It takes courage to make an assertion. Eventually this attitude led me to realize that, in a similar way, "yes" is simply a more fun default answer than "no." So I was ready to believe in stuff, rather than disbelieve, because disbelieving might be more "grown up," but believing is more fun.
Step 2: A Christmas Story. I didn't come across some of the best Christmas movies until after I left home, for some reason. I discovered Ralphie and his Red Ryder bb-gun in my first year of university, and not having watched it 24 hours a day on whatever channel it is that does that, the movie's sharp, intense shot of Christmas nostalgia and loveliness still gets to me. Somehow this story set in the '50s - way before I was born - feels exactly like my childhood Christmases, in the same way that Bill Cosby's early stuff feels like he's describing my childhood, even though I grew up about as demographically far from Philadelphia's projects as possible. The joy, angst, and innocence of childhood, and the charming affection the family members have for each other, are the roots of this Christmas film.
Step 3: It's a Wonderful Life. This is another film that I came to late. I can't remember exactly when, but it was also somewhere in my early twenties, and maybe because I didn't grow up on it, it absolutely made me cry the first time I saw it. And the second time. And the third time. And it has one of the great screen kisses, and one of the funniest love scenes (the bathrobe and the bush), and one of the most joyful endings out there. Sometimes a certain song or movie is like ripping a band-aid off all kinds of pent-up emotions, and this movie is that, for me, every Christmas. And the whole movie ends off in George Bailey’s house, and he’s with his family.
Step 4: coming to South Korea. I managed to miss Korean Christmas my first two years here, my first year because I was packing to go home, and my second year because mom had gotten sick, and we gathered the whole family in Canada for a final Christmas together. It was precious... but I still hadn't seen a Christmas in Korea. My first Christmas in Korea was marred by grief over my recently dead mother, and the dull realization that things were not going to work out between me and the lady I'd promised to come back to Korea for, while I nursed my sick mother in Canada. Christmas in Korea is not the most important holiday of the year. Not by a longshot. It's not even really a family day: a lot of people hang out with friends. It's mostly a couple holiday -- kind of like Valentine's day on steroids, with cheesy music and fake snow instead of chocolate and flowers. Being around that, it began to dawn on me, how important it is for me, on Christmas, tobe around family.
Step 5: And then I started to miss Turkey dinner -- one of the greatest North American traditions out there -- and next time somebody tells you "We're Canadian. We don't have a culture." ask them how they'd feel eating microwave dinners on Christmas Day. And the thing about turkey dinner, too, though, is the people: you eat turkey dinner, sure, but you eat it with all the favorite people who live near you: family if possible, or the friends who stand by you. Once again: the people who care about each other get together.
Santa's part of that jumbled, Christmassy mess of signs and symbols that can be noisy and frustrating but which, ideally, ends up with everybody being a little more generous than usual, and spending a little time focused on the people they love. That's why, even though I didn't used to believe in Santa, now that Christmas has been completely unfettered from it's original meaning -- now that scholars have assured us that there's no way we could know if Jesus was actually born on December 25th, now that the X-mas backlash has led to the anti-X-mas "Let's-just-call-it-Christmas-again" double-backlash, now that it's gotten politically correct and twelve-year-olds can sing Adam Sandler's "Hannukah Song" but might not know the whole first verse of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "Last Christmas" is on the radio more often than "Silent Night" and it's all hyper-commercial and people can pick and choose which symbols represent Christmas to THEM, now that Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo cackles maniacally over all the Christmas confusion, my mind turns to my family, and to me, Christmas is about being around your family, and the people you love. Whether a family is gathered around a Children's bible, reading the Christmas story, or a tree, opening presents, or a box, sorting items for a food drive, it's that family togetherness that underpins it all, to me.
So that's how I came to believe in Santa: by coming to a country where it's common not to spend Christmas with your family, and by realizing that that childhood Christmas, even the parts my parents taught me weren't "REAL" Christmas, is a precious and wonderful thing about growing up, and I miss it, and I miss Santa Claus, the way I used to know him back in Canada. I still get the most homesick at Christmas.
This year, my Christmas homesickness has been more acute than usual, because this summer I went to Canada to see my family. We had a great old time, and I got to meet my adorable niece and nephew for the first time. I also saw my grandmother and grandfather (from my mother's side) and visited my mother's grave for the first time since the week after her funeral, and saw my grandfather for the last time before he passed away this fall.
The experiences I had with my family? Nothing epic or outrageous, just driving around running errands with my sister-in-law, while her kid's in the backseat, my brother and I getting our hands on the best beer in the store, and then cracking a cold one and making bum jokes, like when we were twelve and fourteen, but with beer. Getting my niece to dance to "Bad" by Michael Jackson, by pumping her knees and bobbing her top-heavy baby body up and down... and suddenly it's really sad that I can't eat some turkey dinner with them, and my best friend since 2005 is leaving Korea the Monday before Christmas, and I’ll miss him like hell: he’s my family too. But then, I’ve got girlfriendoseyo ready to celebrate with me our third Christmas as a couple, and a swack of friends (more than I’d anticipated) all signed up to have turkey dinner with me at my buddy’s place... and maybe this Christmas won’t be so bad after all. It’ll sure be different thanany I’ve had before, but I’m figuring it out, and if I can be around some people I care about, cool.
Rob blathers on about most anything and everything, sometimes Korea, but always with humor and videos at Roboseyo. He's been making Danielle feel a part of the expat community in Korea for over a year now and she truly appreciates it.