If you follow this blog you know how much Christmas means to me and, if you’ve lived through 2020, you know how strange this Christmas season feels. No family gathered around the hearth, no friends gathered around the dinner table. There was a point, a few weeks back, when I even pondered not getting a tree this year—which would have been a lifetime first for me.
My wife, God bless her, convinced me otherwise and we found a sweet little tree—a large one just didn’t feel right—which now stands in our family room, blinking beacons of Christmas love at me. And I’ve realized that, given the state of the world, I have to celebrate Christmas this year. That it’s more important than ever to invite the unique magic of the season into my heart. To root and ground in the warmth, the compassion, the connectedness (to both God and our fellow creatures) that seems to radiate from the deeps of our souls every December 25th. To fill the Yule cup to the brim, drink deeply, and carry that energy into the new year: a year that, I hope and pray, brings much-needed health, sanity, and compassion to the entire world.
And now, without commercial interruption, here's Creation Point's yearly Christmas Special: my (very) short story, "The Truth About Santa Claus," illustrated by the great Vassilis Gogtzilas.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SANTA CLAUS
"THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!"
He’d been thinking about it for days—ever since he heard Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo announce it on the school bus—and he didn’t believe a word of it, not one word. (Well, maybe ONE.) But Cody had to be sure, absolutely, positively sure—
—and that’s why he was hiding behind the couch at midnight on Christmas Eve.
His mother was there, asleep in his dad’s old easy chair, the reds and blues of the Christmas tree lights making her look peaceful and happy and impossibly young.
The tree, by the way, had not ONE SINGLE PRESENT underneath it.
That didn’t make sense. If there WAS no Santa Claus, if his mother was the one who bought the presents, wrapped the presents, stacked them under the tree, then how come she hadn’t done it? How come she wasn’t awake RIGHT NOW arranging them all?
He got scared. Maybe there wasn’t going to BE a Christmas this year. Maybe Mom had lost her job and they didn’t have any money and so she COULDN’T buy him any presents and—
And then Cody glanced over at the windows and noticed that it was snowing.
Or was it?
If that was snow, it was the WHITEST snow he’d ever seen. It was snow as bright as moonbeams, as bright as sunlight, as bright as...
Quickly, but quietly (he didn’t want to wake his mother), he scurried to the window and looked out.
It was coming down and coming down and COMING DOWN all across town, whirling and whipping, spinning and gyrating, out of the night sky. Glowing so brightly that it almost hurt his eyes to look at it. And Cody saw that it certainly wasn’t snow, and it absolutely wasn’t rain, it wasn’t ANYTHING he’d ever seen before. But each drop, no...each flake, no... each BALL of glowing WHATEVER IT WAS, seemed to pulse and spin, soar and vibrate, as if it were alive.
And the stuff, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS (and he knew now that it was magic. He just KNEW), wasn’t collecting on the streets, wasn’t piling up on the rooftops. It was MELTING INTO (that’s the only way he could put it: MELTING INTO) every house (no matter how small) and apartment building (no matter how big).
EVERY house and apartment building.
He looked up.
And there it was: coming RIGHT THROUGH THE CEILING of Apartment 3F, HIS apartment, swirling, like a tornado of light, around the chandelier and then down, down, down—
—STRAIGHT FOR HIS MOTHER.
At first he almost yelled out a warning, “Mom! Wake up! MOM!” But something made him stop.
Instead of yelling he ducked back behind the couch and watched, eyes peering over the top.
Watched as the light-tornado wheeled around his mother, so fast, so bright, that he could hardly even SEE her. But he COULD see her. Most of her, anyway.
And what he SAW...
The light poured in through the top of her head, through her eyes, through her chest, through her toes. It lifted her up—still sleeping!—and carried her out of her chair and across the room. And as she floated—
—she started to change:
Her hair became white, her nose became red, her belly ballooned like the most pregnant woman in the history of the world. Her feet grew boots, her head grew a hat, her nightgown grew fur. An overstuffed sack sprouted, like a lumpy angel’s wing, from her shoulder. And then—
AndthenandthenandTHEN, it wasn’t his mother there at all, it was him, it was SANTA CLAUS! STANDING RIGHT THERE IN CODY’S LIVING ROOM! Santa Claus who, with a laugh (exactly like the laugh Cody always knew he had, only better) and a twinkle in his eyes (exactly like the twinkle he’d always imagined, ONLY BETTER) reached into his sack and pulled out package after package, present after present, and placed them, carefully, like some Great Artist contemplating his masterpiece, under the tree.
When he was done, Santa Claus stood there, grinning and shaking his head, as if he couldn’t BELIEVE what a beautiful tree this was, how wonderful the presents looked beneath it. As if this moment was the greatest moment in the history of Christmas, as if this apartment was the only place in all the universes that such a Christmas could ever POSSIBLY happen.
And then the MOST amazing thing happened:
Santa Claus turned.
He turned slowly. So slowly Cody couldn’t even tell at first that he was moving at all. And—slowly, SLOWLY—those twinkling eyes, that Smile of smiles, fixed itself on the two boy-eyes peering, in wonder, over the top of the couch.
And what Cody felt then he could never really say: only that it was better than any present anyone could ever get. Only that it made his heart so warm it melted like magical WHATEVER IT WAS, trickling down through his whole body. Only that it made him want to reach out his arms and hug Santa Claus, hug his mother, hug his father (and FORGIVE him too, for running out on them) and his aunts and uncles and cousins (even his Cousin Erskine who was SUCH a pain) and Big Mouth Jenny Rizzo (who really wasn’t so bad most of the time) and all his friends and teachers and the kid in his karate class who always smelled SO BAD and, embarrassing as it sounds, it made him want to hug everyone and everything in the whole world including rabbits and snakes and trees and lizards and grass and lions and mountains and, yes, the EARTH HERSELF.
Cody wanted to hold that gaze, to keep his eyes locked on Santa’s, forever. (Or longer, if he could.) Wanted to swim in that incredible feeling, drown in it, till GOD HIMSELF came down to say: “Enough!”
Except that he blinked. Just once. But in that wink of an eye, Santa was gone. Cody’s mother was asleep in the chair again and, for one terrible moment, the boy thought that the whole thing must have been a dream.
Except, under the tree: THERE WERE THE PRESENTS.
Except, out the window: THERE WAS THE SNOW, the rain, the magical WHATEVER IT WAS, shooting up, like a blizzard in reverse, from every house, every apartment building. Shooting up into the heavens, gathering together like a fireball, like a white-hot comet—
—and fading away into the night: going, going...
Without so much as a tinkling sleigh-bell or a “Ho-ho-ho.”
Not that it mattered.
Cody looked at his mom.
Cody kissed her.
“I love you,” he said. And he was crying. Happy tears. Christmas tears. Like moonbeams, like sunlight. Like stardust.
Mom stirred in the chair, smiled the softest sweetest smile Cody had ever seen. “I love you, too,” she said.
And then she drifted back to sleep.
Cody sat at her feet, warming himself, warming his SOUL, by the lights of the tree.
And soon, he, too, was drifting off to sleep. And as he drifted, a wonderful thought rose up, like a balloon, inside him. Rose, then POPPED—spreading the thought to every corner of his mind. Giving him great comfort. Great delight:
“One day,” the thought whispered, “when you’re all grown-up, when you have children of your own. ONE DAY,” the thought went on...
“It will be YOUR TURN.”
Story ©copyright 2020 J.M. DeMatteis
Art ©copyright 2020 Vassilis Gogtzilas
So, Superman's Fortress of Solitude is at the North Pole (when he actually has one), so does that mean he is the DC Universe Santa Claus?ReplyDelete
I know that Len Wein wrote a story where the two teamed up in DC Comics Presents... I assume because pre-CRISIS DC was absolutely insane... which begs the question, did CRISIS wipe out Santa along with Ace the Bat-Hound and Earth-Two Jimmy Olsen's barber?
Dematteis... Vassilis Gogtzilas isn't real. We go over this every year.
Well If it makes you feel any better Dematteis, here is a folk song about a Christmas in Canada that might remind you things can always be worse. ALso you get to hear a far out song...
If that isn't enough, there is one man whose council I always seek in times of distress. He always makes me find the deeper truth in the world.
It shows the eternal through line that all holidays of the season share.
Words from the master sage himself. Hey. Hey.
Who needs Santa when you've got Krusty?Delete
Okay, I need Santa. But that was pretty great nonetheless.
Of course that was still a few years before Mr. Burns would say mu favorite holiday greeting, "Merry Humbug, everyone."Delete
It isn't surprising though that Krusty is such a sage. He is the son of Rabbi... and Jackie mason, he was married to Mia Farrow, he know knows of other spiritual paths of his a young daughter who was raised Christian.... admittedly by an anti-clownite (thus he knows persecution, and is willing ot face it for his daighter), and has enough faith to bet on the Generals against the Globtrotters.
Truly one of the great philosophical leaders of our time. We are lucky to be in his presence. I think we can all agree Hey Hey should replace "om" in meditation.
We also learned that I know way too much about a clown, and I only scratched the surface
MERRY HUMBUG, EVERYONE!!!!!!!!
God bless us, everyone!Delete
Dematteis, that story you began with IS very touching, but in the spirit of the holiday, I must point out those who have been more deeply effected by COVID and ChristmasDelete
Ones whose holidays will be hit very hard indeed.
I speak of course about... the friends and family you see around the season and tell and reenact tales of my glories and triumphs to at get-togethers.
The whole year and they get none of their dosage, who knows what kind of mental toll that will take on them. They may become so disillusioned with the world do to their loss they all become bank robbers, or Irish or something.
It is of course important to reach out loved ones, but I;m not sure this tradition will have the same effect over the phone or email.. In fact, it may make it worse by highlighting the deficit from last year! The magic is not electric.
I don;t envy this responsibility you have, in trying to find the best way to mitigate harm on this one,
It's a difficult burden, but I'm holding up. :)Delete
Can you tell about your family history? I think I remember you saying in an interview that you had a both Jewish and Catholic upbringing. Did your family celebrate both holidays? Also, was this an inspiration for Iceman having a Catholic father and Jewish mother?
My father was Italian-Catholic, my mother of Russian-Jewish descent, and, yes, we celebrated everything; but Christmas was, and remains, the highlight of the year for me.Delete
And, yes, that was an inspiration for Iceman's parents being of different religious backgrounds.
I believe Moonshadow's mother was also Jewish. Does that mean that in addition to all being addicted to oxygen (as we have discussed), some percentage of Italians are also glowing orb aliens?Delete
But Christmas... a time in winter... being the best part of the year? Spoken like someone who never dealt with bitter Midwestern cold, or had to spend an entire day shoveling a tiny part of land over and over and over in their adolescence, not to mention driving on frozen roads. Stereotypical New Yorker, if there is one thing that city is known for it is creating eternal optimists.
My question is, how did Growing up in Brooklyn effect your Christmas love. With its quite rustic charm, and acres of pine trees as far as the eye can see, snow that never seems to be anything but a bright white, all the town fathers going out and hunting a wild turkeys for dinner, all the businesses except a single pharmacy closed, farmers giving thanks for a bountiful year, kids ice skating on a frozen pond they were fishing out of just a few months earlier. Ah, Christmas in Podunk Brooklyn like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
By the way, I saw your "tweet" in the corner, about a certain senator (we won't name names). T Here is actually a Twilight Zone comic where a similar politician whose first name is Galt, goes back in time to the horrific hardships of the Great Depression, and the true desperation people felt at the time.Delete
Yeah, growing up was just like that. :)Delete
One of the reasons I wrote the above story was to see some Christmas magic happening for a kid who lived in the kind of apartment building I grew up in. Rustic it wasn't!
Didn't "The Gift of the Magi" take place in an apartment in New York?Delete
By the way, the first time I experienced that story is when my 2nd grade teacher read it to us, and now as then, I don;t get why these combs are so special. They are combs. I get the point of the story, I just think O' Henry could have picked a better gift.
Also, that Twilight Zone comic involves the one thing always missing from Dickens novels, desperate people devouring so,eone trying to turn there back on them with platitudes about bootstraps. Because sometimes.... not always, but sometimes... comics deliver for you in a way no other medium is capable. Though it should be mentioned I am not advocating cannibalism... and not just because I couldn't outrun much of anyone.
And on that odd note: Happy Holidays, Jack! Hope the new year brings you (and all of us) good things!Delete
Right back at you Dematteis, But...Delete
Not understanding why combs would be so expensive, or why they would a good gift isn't strange. It is a note O. Henry's editor should have brought up.
I've got this friend who doesn't believe in Santa Claus, waddaya say we crawl down his chimney and scare the HELL out of him!Delete
Bonus points if you can name the the classic Christmas movie that line is from.
Hint: it was released before 1950
Twas.... The Man Who Came to Dinner.Delete
sorry, I mistyped the hint. It was 1942 the picture came out. No wonder you couldn't get it. Damn typos.Delete
Deepest apologies,You of course would have gotten it if I hadn't typed incorrectly. It is after all your favorite Christmas movie of the many in the subsection of Christmas movies starring Monty Woolley, with Bette Davis, set in Ohio... mostly in one population house, with Jimmy Durante in a small role that ends up solving a major conflict.
To rise to the top in that wide of a range is really something. Again, deepest apologies.
Monty Woolley was also in another Christmas classic, which my wife and I watched last week: THE BISHOP'S WIFE.Delete
I have not seen the film, but I assume it is safe to assume the bishop in question is Anglican... or its American cousin Episcopalian?Delete
The movie doesn't speccify.Delete