Do you remember the funny and downright lame excuses your parents used to give you when talking about Santa coming to visit on Christmas Eve? 3 videos.
From Denny: Think back. How much can you remember about the things your parents used to tell you about Santa? This Christmas Eve my husband and I started that conversation. Though we have been married many years there were still some things we did not know about each other.
We laughed about the incredible stories our parents told us on Christmas Eve. It was becoming a contest between whose parents were the most outrageous storytellers. I think my husband’s parents won that contest as his mother was mostly Irish. The Irish have quite the reputation for storytelling even after generations of living in America. Bonnie was highly intelligent, creative, charming and just so endearing that she quickly became my favorite person in his family. She really insisted upon keeping a positive attitude, living the joy of life no matter what was going on around her.
Yet she was still very sensitive and empathetic with others when misfortune befell them, willing to move Heaven and Earth to help them. Bonnie was part of the Hundred Percent Club, refusing to give others the common habit of The Minimum Acceptable. She was no slacker in her life philosophy. We easily became fast friends which is quite unusual for American women and their mother-in-laws.
My father-in-law, John, though a severe man shaped by childhood hardship and a world war, had his moments when he could be fun and even funny. Most of all he worshipped the ground Bonnie walked on and just about everything she did or said was fine with him. His world revolved around her at the shining center. He joined right in with the outrageous Santa answers to his children. No wonder my husband used to ask me what I knew about Santa. He was still confused from childhood.
Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana
As you already guessed it was Bonnie who gave her five children the most inventive answers. My ultra serious parents paled in comparison. My father, Lionel, was a chemical engineer with his mother’s severe judgmental attitude. The only time he had fun was when my mother was alive and they threw the neighborhood block parties on a regular basis.
At four years old I ended up the martini bartender since I was the only one it seemed with the technical training to get the “shaken not stirred” just right. Forget it that my hands were too small to open the frozen metal shaker. I volunteered one of the partying adults to get the job done, and then waved them off as I delicately poured their libation. I was also the 2 AM bouncer, the only sober one left to clean up. My mother, Marie, was a gifted brilliant artist who died too young as gentle sociable people often do. When it came to creative Santa answers she could whip out something clever from her genius level intelligence only to have it squashed from killjoy Mr. Logic who often complained his IQ tests were not as high, grumbling how his bosses preferred his wife. He never did understand the concept of emotional intelligence as my mother had high people skills and a loving heart to match. Those two people were quite the study in contrasts that were definitely not harmonious.
Enough of the back story… My husband and I talked about when it was we began to reach our awareness level that something was definitely hinky with the Santa story. Even as small children we realized there was a real inconsistency of logic to what they gave us as answers. Both of us really wondered about the sanity of our parents by the time we were four years old. We kept quiet until age seven when finally we thought they might need an intervention. We began to question intensively at that age. Already our older siblings couldn’t wait to trash what they thought were our pretty rose-colored glasses illusion and so it was then we decided it was finally safe to bring up the subject.
My husband was growing up in Louisiana. At that time my family moved from Nebraska and was now residing in Maine, a place that dearly loved the Santa tradition. Maine was its own magical place complete with cold weather, snow and the occasional blizzard, though we lived near the Penobscot Bay.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Old Man River: The Mississippi River
Lifestyles could be no more different. My husband, David, grew up in a simple small one-level house raised up on blocks to prevent termite damage and to avoid flooding. It rarely ever reached freezing in Louisiana and snow was usually non-existent. They didn’t even have a fireplace to set the stage for the tradition. A cellar was out of the question in an area that was only about 25 feet above sea level.
Even the former swamp land was not considered strong enough to support a two story house. What they had was high heat and humidity eight months out of the year, attic fans to keep them cool at night before air conditioning became a middle class staple and an Exxon oil refinery across the street where his father was glad to find work from 9 to 5.
It sure beat working on the barges and being away from his wife and then four children for two weeks at a time. John was often worried about leaving his wife and small children alone for such long periods. Baton Rouge is one of the busiest ports in the country and ranked number five. The barges made the run from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to pick up cargo. The larger boats could not navigate this shallow area of the Mississippi River so it was necessary to send the barges.
The White House Inn - now an historic site and bed and breakfast - in Belfast, Maine
Cold snowy Maine in the Northeast
During that time period I grew up in a rambling two-story 14 room house attached to a two-level barn in town. Can you imagine a house with a barn in the city? It was a small, charming, well-ordered town. Everything seemed logical. It was a 300 hundred year old town of perfect blocks and streets named after trees like Cedar Street, Elm Street and the usual street named Church Street where there was a row housing different Christian denominations.
Those old New England houses in Belfast, Maine were most often built by ship captains, new additions tacked on to the main house for over a century by various owners and several generations that resulted in a bizarre jig-sawed floor plan.
Often you could still find the old knob and string one-circuit electrical wiring throughout the house, the attic and the cellar right along with plaster walls and ceilings. Since my Kentucky grandfather was a residential contractor as well as a farmer, he had taught my father how to build a house. My father was always ripping out this wall or that on that old house to renovate it, replacing that crazy dangerous wiring, muttering obscenities under his breath the whole time. Since he was tall at six foot four inches he had to raise the ceilings in their upstairs bedroom. Lots of grumbling went on during that process too. Like the family relationships that rambling house mirrored a constant state of repair.
Penobscot Bay, Maine, a real Christmas friendly area where I spent my earliest years
Kid antics in a rambling old house
My favorite thing to do as a small child in that funny house was to go position myself at the front door, lugging a heavy gift. I used all my strength to hoist that bowling ball and throw it, watching it bounce, gaining speed since the house was far from level. It rolled from the front hall, through the living room, into the kitchen and all the way to the back of the house. It usually came to a rest in front of the washing machine, hitting my mother’s ankles as she loaded clothes. My mother was not amused. I thought it was deliriously funny. Not all kids are like their parents I guess.
Santa coming down the chimney
Returning to the present… my husband and I talked about the Santa stories and the chimney excuses. We had three fireplaces in our house and so my question was which one Santa would come down. My father would get angry and ask why it was important as to which one, who cares?
Since it was a blowing cold winter complete with snow drifts up high on the windows, we often had a fire going in the fireplace. I was worried Santa’s suit would catch on fire and the hospital wouldn’t be open to help him. My father would stomp off in disgust, leaving my mother with the dilemma.
Marie would start that slow smile and proceed to tell me that all would be well as Santa had fire insurance. He also had elves that went before the Christmas King to advise him as to which chimney to travel down as these were very smart elves, the smartest in their class. As you can tell the IQ wars entered into every conversation in that house so Santa was declared a genius too. At the age of three I seemed to be satisfied that maybe Santa was not stupid after all and could figure out not to go down a burning chimney. Case closed.
My husband used to ask his parents as to how Santa was going to come down the chimney since they didn’t have or need one in their climate. Bonnie and John were ready for that one and pounced on it immediately. They told him not to worry as Santa had the key to the back door since he was a trustworthy kind of guy. The next question was, “When are you going to give him the key?” as my husband pointed to the key hanging on the key rack. Bonnie declared, “We got that covered. We gave Santa his own key years ago before you were born. Now it’s time to go to sleep to wait for Santa!” She gave him the bum’s rush so she could get to wrap those Christmas presents as Santa’s best elf.
Tradition: Leaving Santa milk and cookies
What about leaving milk and cookies for Santa you ask? My father was the “bah, humbug!” kind of guy who thought it was a real nuisance to leave milk and cookies. Well, my mother sure tried to leave them for Santa, often nibbling on them when she was pregnant with my little sister. She would giggle and tell me it was OK; Santa shared. That tradition quickly died as those two never could get their stories together.
My husband’s parents? They weren’t much for the milk and cookies tradition either as they were tired at the end of the day. When David asked what kind of cookies were they going to leave out for Santa, Bonnie and John decided to tell him the bald-faced truth: Santa was getting fat lately and needed to lay off the sugar.
Since my husband wasn’t satisfied with that answer they proceeded to embellish the story further. “Well, you know,” said Bonnie, “that by the time Santa gets to Louisiana he’s kind of full from all the milk and cookies all the other kids left him. Since there isn’t any magical rest stop on his Christmas Eve run, he’s decided to cut back to keep his weight down. You know there is a load limit for Santa’s sleigh. We don’t want to make the reindeer work too hard pulling a heavy sleigh full of presents.” Little children have small bladders on long trips. My husband could relate to that and dutifully went to bed.
Tradition: Letters to Santa
Did you write letters to Santa? Of course you did. Most of us did. Even when we wrote those letters we all really wondered if Santa ever received them. I mean, who has an address called The North Pole? But I humored my mother as it seemed to please her and my grandmother who ecstatically enjoyed reading them. I was a budding writer even then, complete with the usual childishly scrawled artwork. I still do child-like artwork but now the sophisticated art community calls it gestural drawing and the artist is self-taught. Works for me; whatever floats your boat.
I still remember climbing into my winter coat, flinging that long scarf around my little neck, plunging that hat onto my head with a scrunching sound as my hair crackled from the static electricity in the dry air. Then, as I opened the front door to the north wind, I slipped and slid on the front steps well iced. My boots finally landed on the sidewalk and I walked, crunching along through the snow to the neighborhood mailbox, mailing those letters to Santa. Then I ran all the way back home as it was only a half a block away ready to get back into that warm house. The mailman knew my mother and returned the letters to her on the sly as I was to find out years later. Small towns, they sure do have a real racket going, don’t they?
Bonnie and John chose a different approach to Santa letter writing. They were into efficient parenting. They didn’t want to go about the extra effort of rustling up some stationery and stamps, sitting down with four children for two hours while they struggled, writing with pencils too big for their tiny hands. Nor did they want the bother of going to the post office miles away to mail fiction with perfectly good stamps on it. After all, in the parent community they were known for being fabulously organized and very practical.
My husband, David, was quite annoyed with his parents. He was not allowed to write his own letter and made the mistake of asking for The Big Explanation. Bonnie was ready as David was her fourth child and he couldn’t bully or baffle her as by now she was a seasoned parent.
Bonnie, the ever attentive mother, baffled him with the storyline, “Don’t worry about it, honey, we already got that covered months ago. We wrote Santa and told him everything you needed. You get extra points as a kid when your parents write Santa for you. Then he brings you extra presents as a reward. Trust me; we used to live right down the road from Santa’s family. Santa knows us well. We used to be kids too.”
With that my husband had finally figured out it was a losing battle in that household. He went to bed, hoping she was right but now knowing that was his last “baffle the kid with BS” line. His parents had finally “outted” themselves. He knew. He fell asleep, resting easy as he also realized his parents did not require that intervention after all. Turns out they were sane after all.
Just when you think it ends there as the kids finally figured out their parents’ game plan at Christmas, something new pops up into your world to make you doubt. Doubt what? Doubt that Santa is just a myth.
Sweethearts: We wrote letters while living 8,000 miles apart
When my husband and I did meet it was briefly in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana high school. After our brief meeting, my family moved to Taiwan for most of my high school years. All that time David and I wrote letters, eight thousand miles apart. He wrote on his mother’s dark pink stationery. (I told you they were a practical family. Why buy new stationery when you can confiscate your mother’s for free?)
He also went to the school library at the tender age of 15 and dutifully copied some of classic literature’s best poetry, sending it to me to express his love. Not bad for a shy guy romancing a poetic writer who liked writing term papers for fun and worked on the school yearbook. I’ve always had a soft spot for kind men who were courageous enough to risk ridicule.
David was a natural at sales so I returned to Louisiana to go to college with him. We had lived there just long enough to establish a residency claim. College is a lot less expensive when you can claim residency. After dating a while he took me home to meet his parents, Bonnie and John. I was smitten with them as well. Later I often wondered if I was marrying David or Bonnie and John; they were such cool people.
Papa Noël - the Cajun and French Santa
Christmas Eve surprise
It was Christmas Eve and they asked us if we wanted to go along for a ride. They told us to bundle up. It was a surprise. David and I looked at each other and grinned, wondering what those two were up to now. We obliged, thinking it was the parent’s idea to take us out to ride through the Louisiana neighborhoods and enjoy all the Christmas lights and decorations.
But the ride went on and on, an hour long. We grew restless. We were taken out of the neighborhood and found ourselves on the long winding dark River road. The Mississippi River has a high levee in this area and a road just down below. Eventually, we stopped and saw a lot of people getting out of their cars. We had arrived at some celebration. I asked what was going on as we started walking up the levee in the cold night air. Bonnie started explaining, “We thought you might enjoy a Louisiana tradition we had when we grew up. It’s called the Lighting of the Bonfires.”
Lighting of the Bonfires on the Mississippi River levee
In antique Cajun dress, lighting of the bonfires
We drew closer with the growing happy crowd. At dusk when it was the perfect shade of dark, the bonfires were lit. The fires traveled all down the levee in a cascading row like a domino chain, illuminating the intense dark since there were no street lights in this small town of Convent, Louisiana. We smiled at the visual spectacle.
I just had to ask, “Why are they lighting all these bonfires on the river levee? What’s the story behind the French tradition?” “Oh,” said Bonnie, nonchalantly, “don’t you know? They are lighting the way for Papa Noël!”
“Who’s Papa Noël?”
“Why he’s the French version of Santa Claus!” she said.
Then it hit me and I couldn’t help but laugh. The river levee was all lit up like an airplane landing strip so Santa and his reindeer could find their way in the dark night. Bonnie and John sure did have it all covered; they think of everything. Just when I thought I was all grown up and I knew the truth. Maybe Santa really was on his way!
Copyright 24 Dec 2008
Christmas Eve Midnight
All Rights Reserved
And a couple of videos to make you smile. The first is a Cajun Grandpa reading the Cajun version of The Night Before Christmas to his grand kids in a home video. The second is a comic version from Larry the Cable Guy: Have a Merry Christmas and a great holiday season! Thank you for your support this year!
Reading of Cajun Night Before Christmas
Larry the Cable Guy’s politically correct Christmas tale
The White House Inn (Bed and Breakfast), Belfast, Maine, on Church Street, a few blocks down the street from where I grew up.
Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana, located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is what most people envision when they think of Louisiana.
Papa Noël Photo by Raphael Goetter @ flickr
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