The Kid Who Was Afraid of Santa Claus, 1973-1980Serge Bielanko
Now that December is almost here I might as well confess something.
Please don’t laugh if you can help it. I am the one standing out here all alone and owning this. Respect that, will ya? Every dramatic bean-spilling on the internet isn’t just about your coffee break entertainment, you know?
Okay. Here we go.
When I was a kid, up until I was like 9 or 10, I was stone-cold petrified of Santa Claus.
SEE??? Damn YOU! I knew you would laugh!
Whatever; it isn’t funny!
I was scared of him, people; I was mortified of the very poster-dude for happiness and joy and getting free presents.
How weird is that?
There used to be this phone number (remember 976 numbers anyone?) that kids could call starting the day before Christmas Eve or so where you would listen to a pre-recorded message from Santa or an elf or whoever telling you all about the big preparations going on in the North Pole for the big day, blah blah blah.
Oh my God: I was addicted to it. My mom let me call it once or twice, but then when she wasn’t around I must have dialed that number 200 more times over the course of the holiday. And every single time I picked up the receiver, I swear to you on a stack of Holidays on Ice, my stubby fingers would quiver with each numbered button I pushed, with every helium-injected elf voice that came on the line.
“Hi Kids! Santa Claus just finished delivering toys to all the good boys and girls in the country of France! In France, Christmas is called Noel! Now get back to bed or Santa will throat punch you and body slam your tiny plump carcass onto your cheap kitchen linoleum when he catches wandering around the house on Christmas Eve!!!”
Okay, maybe I am exaggerating stuff here just a tiny bit as to the content of those harrowing messaged from the great northern beyond, but trust me when I assure you that what I heard in my own mind was exactly that sort of insanity.
I have no real idea why I was so afraid of Saint Nick.
Year in and year out, I knew that I was never a bad enough child to affect my Nice List stature. Little League, Cub Scouts, B’s and C’s on the report card…I was suburban mundane to the bone, ya’ll. The Naughty List belonged to the juvenile delinquents: the smokers and the bus back-seaters, the kids who carved their names into homeroom desks with compass points and grew faint sinister mustaches over the summer between 6th and 7th grades.
Santa Claus had every reason to ignore me and my boring saga; he had every right to drop me off a Boba Fett figure and a new baseball glove and move on to more interesting houses on Christmas Eve without ever thinking twice about my chubby little ass.
But, I just couldn’t convince my mind and my body with what I knew in my heart.
The thought of encountering the giant elf somehow, the detailed image of managing to break through my solid physical paralysis in the deep dark of Christmas Eve and wandering downstairs to actually run in to the Legend himself just as he was attempting to re-thumbtack our stockings back to the kitchen door jamb we used in place of anything resembling a ‘hearth’ as he cursed the ridiculously hard wood bruising his thumb and then suddenly turned to catch me staring at him, mouth agape, from the bottom of the stairs and let out a loud hiss like a hot air balloon descending or a wild vicious serpent cornered to the point of insanity, it was all just too much for me.
I was a prisoner of my own love and respect for an icon. Mine wasn’t a question of believing…oh no no no. Mine was a question of simply surviving my undying belief.
From something charming and playful and magical: I had created a boogeyman whose sole purpose in this life was to catch a young buck-toothed nobody out of his bed on Christmas Eve and what… impale him on the edge of a seven foot long razor sharp candy cane? Drag him back up the chimney and drop him from 30,000 feet somewhere over the lonely frigid North Sea?
The distinct possibilities are endless when you are young and imaginative, huh?
One year, coming out of church well after dark on the night of December 24th, I stared up at the black sky and saw what must have been just a simple jet, blinking it’s red lights, coming in for a landing at Philadelphia International.
Looking back on it now, I chuckle to myself.
Oh how it would have been funny to the people on board that plane, to the grandmas and military guys and the off-duty pilots and whoever else, as they were all excited and effervescent to be heading back home for Christmas, oh how they would have split their sides with gut-wrenching guffaws if they had only known that at the precise moment they were getting ready to descend back to Earth and towards their waiting families and friends, an eight year old little boy, far far below them, was staring up at their plane and damn near shitting himself for being so stupid, for being so foolish, for being caught red-handed out on the nighttime street, long after sunset.
Caught red-handed by Santa himself, hanging halfway off of his sleigh, the fierce winds blasting through his manic white beard, his beady blue eyes laser-beaming down down down through the scattered clouds to fall upon me standing there staring up at him with the weight of the world crashing down on my Christmas spirit.
It was the ultimate experience in ‘believing’.
And I won’t ever wish it on my own kids or anything. But, to be perfectly honest, man, I wouldn’t trade those incredible Christmases for anything in the whole wide world.