1. Waiting in line to see Santa
Between so-called “Christmas Creep” — the season starts in October — and the fact that every retail outlet now has a Santa, if you find yourself waiting in line to see the Big Guy, you will know you are doing it wrong.
This year my children have seen Santa at the mall, the YMCA, the park, the pet store, and even stumbled over one in a hotel lobby. Each time his handlers were practically grabbing children as they passed by, so desperate were they for visitors.
2. Breakfast with Santa
Just as waiting in line to see Santa makes no sense, neither does paying for the privilege. This is particularly true at an event such as “Breakfast with Santa,” as it involves multitasking, a skill set most children have yet to master.
We recently paid big bucks to attend such an event and regretted the decision pretty much the second we walked through the door.
The shrieks of toddlers assaulted our ears as we shuffled to find an empty seat in a dance studio crammed with more than 100 people. Families stood like starving dogs by the buffet table waiting for pancakes that were being produced in a back room at the rate of four an hour.
To help us pass the time, the organizers had helpfully left out coloring sheets of Christmas scenes, along with a cup filled with crayons. Our cup contained six black crayons and an orange nub, which made for some macabre-looking pictures.
Still, if you really, really must have breakfast with Santa, may I suggest asking ahead of time whether live entertainment will be provided. If the answer is yes, run.
Because the last thing our jolly morning meal needed on top of crying children, people knocking into each other whenever they moved, and a perky MC shouting into a microphone (yes, shouting into a microphone) was a troop of pre-teen girls taking up precious space and oxygen with a dance performance to “Feliz Navidad.” But that’s exactly what we got, followed by a bizarre scene from The Nutcracker, in which the prince carried a cell phone and my son added to the narrative by calling out, “Yay, Clara! You go, girl!”
3. Any sort of “History of Christmas” presentation.
Many historical societies will stage these events, which can be great if done well or mediocre if done where I live.
To be fair, any historical society is really going to have to up the ante if it wants to capture the interest of people under the age of 20 because Christmas has never been more showy, glitzy, and over-the-top-fan-f**king-tastic than it is right now. Children accustomed to light shows and dancing reindeer might find a look back in time more alarming than cheer inducing.
We paid $40 to attend such an event in a local historical home that began with a 20-minute lecture on how Santa’s costume has changed over the years. Seriously.
We then watched two women with outfits from different centuries prepare to roll out Christmas cookies on a cutting board after rubbing it down with Chlorox disinfecting wipes. You know, like the pioneers.
A young volunteer who had removed the rings from her nose but not the purple from her hair directed my children’s attention to an old mantelpiece from which hung a sagging line of striped socks. She explained that Santa filled the stockings with fruit and nuts.
My son’s eyes went wide.
“Because the kids were bad?” he asked.
Oh these first world children. The volunteer explained that bad children received switches. She then had to give a brief explanation of corporal punishment to my wide-eyed children, who need only the threat of losing their iPads to cease acting like boneheads.
On the car ride home the children were subdued, occasionally asking questions such as “Did they have enough to eat back then?” suggesting they saw the presentation less as an interesting look back in time and more of an “Aren’t you lucky you were born in the 21st century?” teaching moment.
4. Attending a performance of The Nutcracker
Although this Christmas ballet is an annual treat for some families, I avoided taking my kids until this year because I’ve seen it one too many times and just the opening notes of the overture are enough to make me want to shove a sharpened candy cane through my eye balls.
Still, it’s important to take children to the theater if you can swing the price of admission because they need to learn how to be bored. And culture. They need that, too.
This year I bought us tickets for an abbreviated version staged by a local ballet school. Unfortunately, the producers abbreviated the ballet by cutting out some important details, resulting in a performance that can only be described as Dadaesque, despite a heavy-breathing narrator trying to fill in the blanks.
(“Is that God?” my son asked when the man’s voice first blared through the sound system. “God wouldn’t have left so many holes in the plot line,” I replied.)
Instead of ending the Stahlbaums’ party by showing guests leaving, the producers simply shut off the lights. When the lights came on again, the stage was inexplicably a snowy forest, where apparently the Cure was getting ready to play because troops of children in black were dancing around.
Then, holy crap! there’s Clara on a sofa. In the woods. Only then did the mice and toy soldiers fight it out. And then there were dancing snowflakes.
When the curtain fell on the first act, my son asked “Can we go now?” I almost didn’t hear him because I was crawling under the seats toward the exit.
5. Watching any Christmas movie made after 1967 (with the exception of Muppets Christmas Carol and The Snowman)
Look, I’m sure some good children’s Christmas movies have been made since How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, I simply haven’t seen them.
We tried watching Home Alone, which is billed as a Christmas classic on Netlfix, but the plot line made no sense to my thoroughly modern children.
When little Kevin McAllister’s parents freak out because they left him at home, my children seemed confused.
“Why don’t they just call his cell phone?” my son asked.
“Not many people had cell phones back then,” I answered, thinking of the shoebox-sized contraptions we thought were so cutting edge in 1990.
“Email?” my daughter suggested helpfully.
Also, the family is beyond obnoxious. My kids sat in open-mouthed silence during the first few scenes when the siblings call each other idiots and use the phrase “Shut up” approximately 30 times.
Finally, it’s craaaazzzzyyy violent.
“That’s really disturbing,” my son said when Joe Pesci’s head ends up in the path of a blow torch.
“Tell me about it,” I replied. “Such a talented artist and he had to take roles in schlock like this just to pay the bills.”
My son nodded.
“Yeah and his head’s on fire,” he said.
6. Elf on the Shelf
Over the years, many people have tried to indoctrinate us into this tradition with the promise “It’s so much fun!” I’m not buying it.
For those unfamiliar with the tradition, the elf is brought out at the start of the Christmas season (October) and is placed on a shelf to keep an eye over the children in order to report any bad behavior to Santa. To make it seem “real,” parents are supposed to put him in a different place each night, so that the children think he has moved.
I have some friends who object to this tradition on the grounds that they don’t want their kids fearing an inanimate narc who presides over their home like a hawk-eyed Stasi officer.
For me, it’s less about that and more about the work involved. It’s bad enough that at this time of year I have to mail the Christmas cards, shop for and wrap gifts, bake, decorate, have breakfast with Santa, attend abstract ballet productions, watch an overrated child actor bash two grown men with paint cans and reassure my children they won’t be getting switches in their stockings, now I have to remember to move a creepy-looking doll every night?
In the words of Kevin McAllister, “I don’t think so.”