Santa is kind of like FedEx

Thing 2 (who’s 7 now) is having doubts and asked me the other day whether Santa Claus is real.

I asked him what he thought, and he said he wasn’t sure but that he didn’t see any way that one man on one sleigh could deliver all those toys to every kid on the planet in just one night.

I said that’s not how it works.

I explained that Santa used to deliver all those toys personally. back in the old days, when the population was a lot smaller, but that he uses a lot of helpers these days.

Santa is kind of like FedEx, I said. One truck couldn’t possibly deliver all those packages to all those homes and businesses in all those countries in one 24-hour period, I said, but a fleet of trucks and planes certainly could.

I said Santa runs the operation. He’s like the CEO. The toys are made by the toy companies, not elves. These days, the elves run the warehouse and oversee distribution.

The toys are delivered first to Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole and then, on Christmas Eve, they’re flown on big cargo planes from the central warehouse to regional distribution centers all over the world and then to local distribution centers, where the toys are placed on trucks and driven to people’s homes.

That’s a lot easier and a lot more efficient than trying to pile all those toys on just one sleigh, I said. The delivery truck drivers drink the milk and cookies and send any leftovers to the North Pole, where Santa shares them with the elves.

Thing 2 thought about it for a moment or two. “I don’t get it,” he said.

That’s OK, I said.

In this 1927 photo, Santa Claus (left) receives his pilot’s license from William P. MacCracken (seated) and Clarence M. Young of the U.S. Department of Commerce. PHOTO: Library of Congress

Rudolph, the other reindeer don’t really love you

Things 1 and 2 watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” this weekend, and before I say anything else, let me say that “Rudolph” is a classic. It’s become deeply embedded in the culture. When you mention the island of misfit toys, in any context, everyone knows what you’re talking about. It’s like calling a mangy-looking Christmas tree a Charlie Brown Christmas tree or walking into a new situation and realizing, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“Rudolph” is beloved. I watch it every year — there’s even a Sam the Snowman ornament on our tree — but watching it this weekend, I was reminded what a bad lesson it sends to children.

Let’s start with Santa.

Santa should be jolly, but in “Rudolph,” he’s a bully who crushes his employees’ self-esteem. He’s a seagull manager who poops all over everything then flies away and lets someone else clean up the mess.

For example, when the elves sing, “We Are Santa’s Elves” — a song all about him, mind you — he dismisses it with a vague, “It needs work.” 

When he discovers Rudolph’s glowing nose, he scolds Donner and writes off Rudolph as a potential member of his team, no matter how well he flies. 

“Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself,” Santa says. “What a pity. He had a nice take-off, too.”

Of course, Rudolph’s family isn’t much better.

His father is Donner (which bugs me, because the reindeer’s name is really “Donder”), while his mother is “Mrs. Donner.” She doesn’t have a first name. “Rudolph” was made in the early-1960s. She doesn’t need an actual name. She doesn’t have an identify other than being Donner’s wife and Rudolph’s mother.

Donner is deeply embarrassed by his son’s glowing nose and hides it under a clump of dirt.

Rudolph — who, let’s remember, hasn’t done anything wrong, who simply is different because of some genetic mutation or recessive gene — complains that the false nose is really uncomfortable.

“There are more important things than comfort: self-respect!” his father tells him. “Santa can’t object to you now,” because that’s the most important thing, impressing your dad’s jerk of a boss who thinks you’re a failure because of what you happen to look like.

Then, one foggy Christmas eve, Santa decides to cancel Christmas.

Santa isn’t much of a doer. He’s not a problem-solver. Rather than scramble to find a work-around, he cavalierly decides to crush the spirits of millions of children — until he’s distracted by Rudolph’s glowing nose.

Santa has an epiphany. He asks Rudolph with his nose so bright to guide his sleigh, and Rudolph, being a good reindeer but also a reindeer with low self-esteem, agrees.

Only now do the other reindeer love him and shout out his name with glee, but, Rudolph, remember this:

They don’t really love you. They love that you can help them.

Telling the truth about Santa

Seeing a lighted sleigh and reindeer flying over Grandma’s house when she was 4 erased any doubts Thing 1 might have had about whether Santa is real, but only for a few years. Last Christmas, though, when our oldest was 9, she began asking us about him again.

I didn’t want to lie about it, but I also didn’t want to answer the question.

“What do you think?” I said, trying to postpone the inevitable.

She said she believed in Santa, but then, a few days later, she’d ask me again.

“We can call him and ask,” I said. “I have his phone number.” This was true. Every parent knows Santa’s phone number.

“What’s his number?” Thing 1 asked.

I told her.

“That’s our number!” she said.

I laughed. I hoped my bluff would work, and it did, for a few days.

She kept asking. She knew the answer, of course, but hoped I would tell her otherwise.

One afternoon, we went to the mall and picked two names off the Salvation Army’s angel tree. We always pick children our kids’ age, and Thing 1 and Thing 2 choose the presents.

When we got to the car, Thing 1 asked me again whether Santa is real. I didn’t want to keep dodging the question, so I told her something I’d read somewhere once.

“The truth is, you’re Santa,” I said. “You know the girl whose name we picked from the angel tree? She’s not going to get any presents this year except the ones you give her. As far as she’s concerned, you’re Santa. I’m Santa. Mom’s Santa. Anyone who helps a child have a good Christmas is Santa. Do you understand?”

She thought about it and nodded her head.

I started the engine and, as I was backing out, she said, “So, is Santa Claus real?”

“Of course,” I said. “Santa is definitely real.”