Santa Claus is an all-seeing, immortal, polyglot, shape-shifter. By some accounts Santa is also a slave owner, although others claim that the elves receive fair compensation for their labor. Sometimes Santa seems truly omniscient, while at other times he needs to employ onsite surveillance via the Elf on the Shelf. (Or does the Elf on the Shelf actually work for someone else?) Humans discuss with astonishment the magical logistics that allow Santa Claus to visit so many houses in a single night, but Santa's attention to detail is no less incredible. It's almost like every household has it's own Santa Claus!
At a high level, Santa is an expert in world cultures, modifying his appearance, dress, and traditions to meet each country's cultural norms. However, Santa's customization of Christmas is much more granular than geo-political, ethnic, or religious boundaries. When you talk to people about their Santa Claus experiences his methods can vary even between houses on the same block.
At some homes Santa is in charge of stocking stuffers only. At homes where he brings larger gifts he may leave them wrapped at some homes and unwrapped at others. At homes where he wraps the presents it seems that he checks first to see what wrapping paper the family used in order to prevent matching their other gifts. It would be more efficient to use a single type of wrapping paper for all gifts for all children. The fact that he does not do this is evidence of his dedication to providing each family with a personalized Christmas experience.
What's astonishing about Santa Claus's high degree of customization from household to household is his actions always match the desires of the parents without any direct communication with them. Santa knows what each child wants for Christmas because children write wish lists or whisper something in the ear of a physical manifestation of Santa at the mall. When I became a parent I made no formal request to Santa regarding how he should arrange gifts in my home, yet he seems to have known exactly what would be right for our family.
I recall the Santa of my youth as a practical man. He did not wrap the presents that he left at our house, which was good since, coincidentally, he tended to give the things from my lists that were most difficult to wrap. I recall Barbie's Townhouse as a prominent example.
As a child I woke up early on Christmas morning but my parents wouldn't let me wake them before a specific time. Santa seemed sympathetic to this arrangement as he would often give me things with which I could amuse myself until my parents were ready to get up. One of the last years I woke up early for Christmas I fell back to sleep on the couch listening to my new Michael Jackson "Thriller" cassette on my new Walkman, both gifts from Santa.
Santa must have remembered these traditions when I had my own children because he has been doing very similar things for them. In addition he has added a new tradition of leaving the kids matching pajamas on Christmas Eve, which they love as do I since it makes for really cute photo opportunities in the morning.
Santa had planned to start another new tradition as well: leaving out a new Christmas book on Christmas Eve, but the year he got the idea he forgot to put out the book. I found it in our closet in February. I guess Santa isn't perfect. Or maybe imperfect is just right for our household.
What does Santa Claus do for your family?
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Of course, it is preposterous to think that one man, no matter how magical can make every family's wishes come true. Sometimes Santa needs some help. You can be a Santa for Chicago kids in need by donating gifts to the Care for Real toy drive through Friday, December 13. Drop off locations are listed here. You can also still give via the Amazon Wish List, particularly if you are a Prime member and get free two day shipping.
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