At the time it was a splurge for us—thirty dollars—but how could we resist? Turns out the shop owner had just polished its brass base that very morning before putting it in the shop window. "I knew it would go quickly," he said, chuckling. The shop is gone now. Still, I'm sure he'd be happy to know it's given us many years of joy. Every time I hear its version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," I have to smile.
The skating rink and lit tree, in Union Square, downton San Francisco, California.
The model for the statue was a young local beauty, Alma Spreckels, who ended up marrying the sugar king (yes, she actually called him her "sugar daddy"–or as she put it, "I'd rather be an old man's darling than a young man's slave."
She also founded the city's Legion of Honor Museum, because none of the swells would take her money for the renowned DeYoung Museum. Many of her treasures came from France, which she helped during World War I. She was one of the most ardent patrons of Auguste Rodin.
The mansion the Spreckels built, on Washington at Octavia, was purchased by novelist Danielle Steel, lucky lady.
The notion of a jolly ol' elf dropping in through our fireplaces on Christmas Eve with gifts for all good little boys and girls (they are all good, though, aren't they?) wasn't universal until the 1820s, when Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" caught the imagination of the American public.
A century later, America's most famous Illustrator, Noman Rockwell, gave this nonsecular — and already very commercial — character his iconic look. His commissioned works graced the pages of numerous magazines, including Boys' Life, Look, Popular Science, Life, and Time — not to mention his numerous covers for the Saturday Evening Post.
Is Norman Rockwell's iconic Santa the Ghost of Christmas Past?
Rockwell's art will always be a part of our collective memories regarding holiday cheer. But in a time of fear, where does Santa fit in?
Unfortunately, this year Christmas will be a bittersweet experience for too many of us. The economy still sucks, so we can't really blame our local stores for putting out the Christmas displays even before the Halloween costumes were pulled from their aisles. A third of their revenue comes through the door this month.
I will always love Rockwell's renditions of The-Man-Formerly-Known-As-Jolly St. Nick. It is probably my very first brush with art appreciation. What child can say otherwise?
But if the image of Santa standing by a Christmas tree bring out the Pavlovian response to buy buy buy, resist it. The truth is this: we can't spend our way out of a recession. The burdon of personal debt has to be weighed with the urge to put a little something under the tree for our loved ones.
Here's a thought: Forget the cashmere sweater, the latest and greatest eReader, or that non-descript gift card. Instead, tell them what the mean to you.
Find the words, open your mouth and say it.
Or write it down so that they have a lifelong keepsake. The notes I've kept from my long-departed loved ones mean more to me than what they left me under the tree, most of which is now long gone.
Over the next week, I'll up uplinking a different Norman Rockwell Santa, starting with–
THE SANTA ABOVE…
This Norman Rockwell illustration is from the December 4, 1926 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. He's scouring the globe for with his list of "Good Boys" in hand. Makes me wonder if his "Good Girls" book was twice as thick…
What with our now global economy, this work is a fitting reminder that we are all connected, in one way or another. (I'm guessing he'll be delivering lumps of coal to those banks who hold onto cash, and don't re-invest into their communities.)
Some other historic Santa illustrations:
Read an excerpt of
THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK
Worse yet, there is no right way.
If you're lucky, as you're stumbling to get the words out, your son will pat you calmly on shoulder and say, "Look, Mom, I know what you're trying to tell me, and it's okay. I've already figured it out."
Sort of like he's figured out that whole birds and bees thing.
Yeah, yeah, I know: happy new year to you, too.
Well, here's hoping he'll spare you that look of condescension when he tells you these little facts of life.
And that he knows to keep his mouth shut about the bully who let the cat out of the bag. Because we all know that there's no accounting for a mother's revenge.
(That photo of SantaCon, the Santa Convention in New York City's Washington Square, I'm sure broke many a child's heart. To add insult to injury, The New York Times asked some noted writers their opinions on it. You can read what they say as to when and how, here…)
That said, those of us who've already gone through this trial can tell you who yet to have this displeasure one very important thing: don't wait too long, or you'll find out that someone else has beaten you to the punch.
We did, with our son. He heard it instead from his fourth grade teacher, whom I guessing, was afraid the other kids would tease him unmercifully if they found out.
For years afterward, he told us it would be the first issue he'd bring up with his therapist.
He also told us that he was never going to tell his children that "lie."
My response: "Oh yeah? We'll see." He's never relished the role of killjoy. I doubt seriously that he'll do that to his own kids.
Instead, he'll do what we did: try to put the whole Santa myth into perspective for them. To discuss with them the joy of giving, and how Christmas is really about the birth of baby Jesus.
Hopefully not as their ripping open their presents. They'll never hear him over the rustle of wrapping paper and their own squeals as they plug in that generation's version of wii.
Our daughter started doubting the existence of the Easter Bunny when I accidentally left the price tag on the chocolate rabbit in her basket.
I've never lived that one down.The grilling she gave me was worse than anything they do in Gitmo. By the time we were done, I was so soaked with sweat, you would have thought I'd been waterboarded.
Today she's just beyond teendom, and she still looks forward to her Easter Basket, but the scars are still there. I know. I could tell by the way she rips off the chocolate bunny's head and munches on it. No dainty bites for her.
Doubt can do that to a girl.
It can also do that to a marriage. In my book Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, the heroine, Lyssa Harper has no reason to doubt her husband's love, but he seems to doubt hers — particularly when he hears from her so called friends that she's been spending too much time with the neighborhood DILF.
But, hey, it's almost Christmas, so I'll leave you with heartwarming excerpt instead.
Olivia is bouncing on our heads at five in the morning. "Can we go downstairs now? Please? To see if Santa has been here?"
Mickey's voice chimes in from the hallway. "Olivia, of course he's been here! Just look over the banister, for crying out loud! The whole floor is covered in them."
Ted peels our daughter off his chest, tossing her onto the foot of the bed. "Yeah, sure, go! GO! . . . Hey: you can look, but don't touch—until your mom and I get down there, too."
"How long will that take?" Olivia tries to pull the covers off the bed, but I hang on fast to it on my end.
"It will take longer if I don't get my first cup of coffee." I know I sound grumpy, but that's the breaks. It's been a long stressful week. We put out the gifts after midnight, and I'm dead tired.
Besides, I don't do crack of dawn too well.
"I'm on it, Mom!" I hear Mickey tromping down the steps to push the button on the coffeemaker.
Olivia flies down the steps, too. "Wait for me! WAIT! . . . Oh! It's bee-U-ti-ful!"
The tree, she means.
Well, more honestly, the field of dreams that surrounds it.
Tanner, too old and too cool for such a show of unfettered giddiness, growls from his room for everyone to shut up. "I'm an atheist! I don't believe in Santa, so shut up!"
"Santa is secular, you moron!" Mickey yells from the kitchen.
I know, though, the minute Tanner hears Ted and me stirring, he'll be right on our heels.
"Are you up?" I nudge Ted because he looks as if he's falling back asleep.
"Hell yeah. You know that Christmas always gives me a woody." He reaches for me and pulls me close. "So does the thought of more office sex, by the way."
"I'll remember that. Only next time let's wait until everyone leaves for the day. I didn't like the fact that Vanna couldn't look me in the eye when I left."
"I'll make it part of her job description." He stretches as he rises from the bed. "Alright! Showtime . . ."
Copyright © 2010 by Josie Brown
Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press