The kid who hated Santa

He wanted a friend. Instead, he got screwed.

photo illustration by priscilla garcia

As a kid, I pretty much thought Santa Claus was a prick.

Ho, ho, hooold on, and hear me out.

To a wide segment of shushed children, Saint Nicholas is a bastard. But to Mom and Dad, this portly mishmash of history and folklore is one of the few lies they’re actually encouraged to tell. He’s a tool to extort obedience and saddle us with crap presents we never requested. (What the hell is an 8-year-old supposed to do with suspenders? Join the Junior Nation of Islam?)

I know I probably sound like a bitter ex, and maybe it’s because I am. As a kid, I thought Santa and I would be pals for life. But then he showed his true colors.

Our relationship started out promisingly enough. In 1984, good old Saint Nick ambled into my preschool with his apple-red cheeks and a sack of goodies and bribed my smitten heart. We bonded over the goofy winter hats our mothers made us wear, and he really understood my passion for all things Spider-Man and Fonzie.

When I saw Santa a year later in Sunrise Mall, however, it was like he was a different person. Literally. No longer playing small venues like my school, Father Christmas had blown up, drawing large crowds of mouth-breathing sycophants to his decadent stage.

He sat like an emperor in a plush, high-backed throne under a towering pine that bristled against the risers. If Game of Thrones had been around back then, I would have run screaming. Instead, I let this debauched frock star dump me on his bony thigh and introduce me to disappointment. Gone were the bespectacled twinkle and rosy cheeks, replaced by muddy gray eyes and blown capillaries. I mechanically recited a couple items from my list, stared numbly at a flashing Nikon and left with complex feelings a 5-year-old couldn’t possibly articulate.

I looked at my mother. “I don’t think that was him,” I said.

In 1988, my relationship with Santa reached its nadir. It was bad enough he was parceling out his few public appearances to creepy subordinates, but now Santa wasn’t even listening to a word I wrote.

For four straight years, Santa botched my clearly written request—nay, plea—for a multipiece Voltron robot, gifting me instead with Transformers, Gobots and even crummier knockoffs. (Yes, there were worse toys than Gobots.)

My foreign-born, non-cartoon-watching parents tried to defend the absentee toy lord, suggesting Santa didn’t know what the hell a Voltron was, but I wasn’t buying it. Guy runs a multinational toy manufacturing company staffed by magic elves, and he’s perplexed by an imported Japanese cartoon? Please.

Then there was the year my father’s car broke down for the last time. I wrote a passionate epistle describing his commuting hardship and pleaded for a new set of wheels. Nothing special. A car that could get Dad to and from work, and me to and from Leatherby’s Family Creamery. And that Christmas, Kriss Kringle did bring my father a new car—in Hot Wheels form.

I nearly lost it. What a sarcastic butt head, I thought. Cookies and head games—that’s how Santa gets his jollies.

Despite how bad it got, I still believed Santa and I could get our long-distance relationship back on track. We just needed time together.

Each Christmas Eve, I paced my room waiting for Santa’s telltale jingle. And when it sounded, I threw open my door and raced down our narrow hallway to discover that Santa had once again stood me up.

“Where is he?!” I demanded.

My dad went to the window and pointed to the night sky. “There he is! You can see his sleigh!”

I squinted as hard as a little boy could, studying the moonlit horizon, picking out distant stars that imploded light years ago, and saw … nothing. My friend was gone. And all I had to show for it was a lousy Gobot.