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Lyrics and Life

Santa Claus is . . .

By Caitlin Ward

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

I must preface this article: please don’t let any small children see.

OK. Here we go.

Today a colleague accused me of trying to con my parents as a small child to get out of trouble or get what I want — not that she had seen it in action, or anything, but she told me that all small children must be cons. I am not completely convinced this was the case, though my memory of being two is not particularly strong.

Even if it was, though, I imagine it was beaten out of me fairly quickly. Not, of course, that my parents would have literally beaten me — I suppose physical discipline might still have been socially acceptable in the 1980s, but my parents were those progressive hippy type of Catholic parents who composted and made hummus. We didn’t really get spankings.

The point is, though, that conning my parents would have been basically impossible. Emotional manipulation was caught quickly and exposed for the logical fallacy it was. Thinking critically and making your case, on the other hand, were respected. And thus, these skills were learned early.

Perhaps a little too early. It didn’t take much evidence for my sister and me to get suspicious of this Santa business. We didn’t have a chimney on our house, for one. I could see the Santa beard on the mall Santa was fake, for another. I didn’t understand how Santa could get to all of the houses in the world in one night, and no one could adequately explain it to me. And then, for some reason, presents from Santa would show up under the tree in the third week of Advent, and he somehow had the same handwriting as my mother.

I might have been young, but I wasn’t stupid.

My parents weren’t inclined to lie to us at the best of times, either. When I asked my father point blank about the existence of Santa, he waffled for a minute and then finally said, “well, Santa’s really a metaphor, Caitlin...”

He explained to me that Santa Claus was the giving spirit in all of us. He never explained why our giving spirit is a fat white man in red, but I don’t think I asked that explicitly.


As far as I can recall, I coped with this knowledge relatively well. He’d only confirmed what I’d suspected for a while. At his request, I kept it to myself at school. It had seemed a bit outlandish, anyway, this whole Santa business. Then, of course, Easter rolled around, and I thought, “wait a minute — if there’s no Santa . . .” And so, my father and I had to have the exact same conversation about the Easter Bunny that we had had only a few months earlier about Santa Claus. I don’t know why I didn’t make the connection at the same time. But hey, I was young.

I wasn’t that bothered about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, I suppose, because my parents had never made either the focus of the High Holidays. We were hippy Catholics with hummus and compost, certainly, but we were also pretty devout Catholics who had our own Advent wreath. As with many Catholic families, to a certain extent Christmas was about presents, and Easter was about chocolate, but also not really.

Santa Claus in particular, I think, was a bit of a tough one for my parents. There’s a certain logic in the cause and effect of Santa Claus at that age (good=presents; bad=no presents), but I don’t think it’s the sort of logic in which my parents were interested. It wasn’t the kind of logic my parents liked. What about all the people who didn’t have presents at Christmas? Was that because they weren’t good enough? Or was it because we live in a fundamentally unequal society that hurts the most vulnerable of us?

All of these things were a significant part of how I was raised, but I also don’t mean to sound overly holy with it; one of the reasons we weren’t so much about presents was necessity. Our parents were pretty poor when we were little. I never noticed that we were poor when I was little, though, and I’d never say I suffered for it. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve gone back and forth about presents a bit. I like giving presents a lot, but I also have a tendency to make too much of that part of Christmas. It’s not that my intentions are bad; it’s that my methods get a bit over the top. There’s so much to get people, and so much to buy, and I’m not poor anymore!

I often run the risk of placing the wrong value on the presents I give, though. To be truly valuable, presents must be a means to an end: they’re an expression of love, not love itself. As an adult, I sometimes forget what I knew as a child: presents, like Santa, are a metaphor.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at