My friend Mike, a close friend of my dad’s who later became a close friend of mine, looks like a member of ZZ Top. He’s got a long white beard and a long white ponytail and he rides a Harley. He’s a Harley mechanic, actually.
Due to his natural resemblance to the Jolly One, Mike’s been playing Santa Claus at his church for the past few years. This year, he was asked to ride a motorcycle dressed as Santa for the local Harley Riders chapter’s annual Toys For Tots run–a look that was perfected by the Santa hat sewn on outside his helmet and the dark black ZZ-esque shades he wore. There was a photographer on the run with us, and he took a picture of Santa Mike with a horde of bikes behind him that ended up on the front page of the Calendar section in the local newspaper (I was on the run with another friend, and although we were in the picture–my very bundled-up face and the side of my friend’s helmet–we were so teeny tiny you’d only know it was us if you’d been there). The people who organize the annual arrival of “Santa” on the ferry in Vineyard Haven happened to see the picture, and as their usual Santa had fallen very ill, they called up Mike to see if he’d be willing to do the job. We spoke on the phone several days later.
People are real weird about Santa nowadays, he said. You know in Australia, Santa’s not supposed to say “Ho Ho Ho” because it’s sexist, or degrading to hos, or something. So everyone who plays Santa in Australia is supposed to say “Ha Ha Ha” instead.
And now the Surgeon General says that Santa can’t be fat, Mike said. Apparently it’s misleading to children to present such a positive role model as being obese. So that’s the reason American kids are fat. I always thought it was the fact that there’s a fast food restaurant on every corner and a big screen TV with 500 channels in every living room in the country. Boy was I wrong.
First there were the worries about inappropriate touching (“Okay kiddo, I hope you’ve got good balance because I can’t put my hand on your back to hold you up, I might get arrested”). Then there was the trouble with Hos in Australia (“G’day, Little Dibbie. What’s that? You wunt a paony? Ha Ha Ha!”). Now, Santa’s not even allowed to be round. What’s next, PETA claiming that it’s unethical for Santa to use reindeer to drive his sleigh, or the American Association of Little People protesting the use of the term “elf”?
This is an imaginary character, people. An imaginary big fat man in a fuzzy white suit, who smokes a pipe (or at least he used to when I was a kid, I’m sure the pipe was nixed sometime in the 90s) and rides around the entire world in the span of 24 hours, managing to climb down the chimneys of 6 billion houses–a character sketch which completely explains why most people cease to believe he exists by the age of five. So what’s the big deal? Isn’t there something more important the Surgeon General could be worrying about?
Leave Santa alone, for fuck’s sake. And if someone is willing to put on a terrible, itchy, silly-looking suit for three hours and play pretend so that a bunch of kids can pee on him and yank his beard and spit in his face and walk away convinced that Christmas is something to look forward to, then damn it, leave that person alone, too. We’re raising such a cynical, superficial generation of kids that Santa Claus will probably be obsolete in ten years anyway.
Besides, a skinny Santa would be really, really creepy.