The Problem with Santa Claus7:39 AM
I've met many bell-ringers in my lifetime -- the freezing ones, who are always desperate to wish you Merry Christmas as you walk past with chin tucked in coat; the grumpy ones, whose personalities seem particularly acclimated for cold; the plain ones, who you feel sorry enough for to convince your mother that she has spare change. They all wear Santa hats and they almost always are women, in my experience, though I'm home-body enough to not know much about bell-ringing trends.
But I still found it fascinating when I met her. She was not a bell-ringer; I can't say what she was, other than a very heavy-set, jolly-looking lady with frizzy white hair and bright cheeks. We stood by the chocolate Santa display, I minding my own chocolate business. That's when she burst out: "I'm sick of it!"
I looked up. I don't put much faith in the normalcy of normal people, normally, but anybody would look up quick to hear a jolly-looking woman get sick by the chocolate Santa display. She saw me staring at her -- that's my worst fear: people catching me staring at them -- and she gestured to the display.
"You see that?"
"Santa, Santa, Santa -- jolly old fellow with white beard and red jumpsuit. You see him everywhere. And his elves -- everywhere."
(I'd met the type before.)
"You kids are growing up brainwashed," she told me. "You see that?"
I very much did.
"It's sexist. The holidays -- it's a patriarchal scheme of oppression against nice girls like you. You ever see a stereotypical elf as a female? And Santa -- Santa, Santa, Santa. Millions of nice girls are growing up brainwashed that the only gift-giving spirit of the season is a fat old man."
"There's Mrs. Claus," I felt compelled to say.
"Mrs. Claus!" (I felt her urgency for an AED about now.) "Mrs. Claus! The biggest lie of them all! A domestic red-robed old woman in a cap, fattening up her husband, tottering about the Christmas castle in house slippers and baking cookies for the hundreds of male elves working in the shop. Mrs. Claus never made any of those toys, you can bet that. She stayed by the fire and knit candy cane striped stockings. So far, so far," she groaned, "we came so far, only to be defeated by Christmas of all things!"
"Well, I don't know about conspiracies," said I.
"It's just a legend, anyway. Some legends have to have males, don't you think?"
"Don't I! Modern literature has feminized the traditionally male -- " Her jolly cheeks had flushed redder. It was clear she knew me for what I was and took me for it. "I won't quit my cause until I see children in every town climbing on the knee of a female Santa Claus. You raise your eyebrows at me. The very fact that you see the idea as odd proves your lack of vision. And why shouldn't there be a female Santa Claus? Who's to stop the Woman who worked her way up to financing the mall, building the mall, owning the mall and shopping at the mall from being the Santa Claus in the mall? It's the thin-minded who oppose it. It's the fearful man-worshipers who put the twisted in it. It isn't unnatural."
"But I can't see it as becoming very popular. Santa seems pretty stuck in his gender."
"That's what everyone said about women presidents, women bus drivers, women business owners -- and look where we are, look where we've progressed. I'm telling you, you need to join the revolution now, or you will be left in the cold of a Christmas fifty years from now when a woman will be the jolly old girl herself and her Mr. Claus the domestic be-capped doormat baking cut-out cookies in the kitchen."
"I can see it," I said prudently. "Have you applied to the nearest mall?"
"Yes. Yes, I have. Turned down every single time, but I won't stop. Let that be a lesson to you, young lady," and she looked me in the eye: "you can do whatever you set your mind to. Merry Christmas."
I said my Merry Christmas back as she heaved her way out of doors past the Santa-hatted bell-ringer. Then I turned to the jolly old man wrapped in foil and packaged in Christmas colors. Poor old man, I couldn't help thinking. I would never look at him the same way again.