It's two days before Christmas, 1976. I'm five years old, and my mother and I are walking through a snowy parking lot in the sleepy Vermont hamlet where I grew up. Mom's making good on a promise to me, the promise that this year I could go see Santa at the local bank where he greeted children every year. In my mind I imagined the event over and over again; climing onto his warm, pliant lap, looking into his caring eyes and issuing my rather substantial list of demands. I was so excited I almost wet myself, but held it in for the greater joy of soiling the lap of a certain St.Nick.
When we arrived at the bank, there was some confusion. There was no Santa this year. No, this year, due to some new local legislation passed by some very influential sect of the area Baptist church, Santa was considered 'distractionary' to the true meaning of Christmas, and this year all appearances of Santas would be replaced by the far more proper appearances of none other than the birthday boy himself, Jesus Christ.
I was confused. I knew I was supposed to sit on Santa's lap and ask him for my gifts, but I found myself in a line waiting to sit on the lap of a skinny, unhealthy looking dinner-theater actor dressed in what appeared to be an adult diaper and a crown of thorns. As my turn approached, I rationalized that asking Jesus would probably be almost as good as asking Santa, since he probably knew him and seemed to have some sort of stake in the holiday as well. So, when my turn came, I cambored up onto the shockingly cold and bony lap of the Jesus and issued my demands.
"First off, I want a Big Trak. No, two Big Traks, so they can fight, and...shouldn't you be taking this down?" I asked.
But Jesus didn't really seem to be listening. He was just looking uncomfortably around, getting clammier by the second. Finally, he interrupted me.
"Kid, do you have any idea who I'm supposed to be?"
"Um, yeah. You're like one of Santa's friends. Jesus. You're an elf, or something," I said, straining my 5- year old mind to find a connection.
"That's fucking IT!" shreiked Jesus, "I'm JESUS. The Savior. The reason we have this stupid holiday!"
I stared blankly, impatient to get on with reading my list.
Jesus looked at me with rapidly growing contempt. "You ingrateful little bastard!" he bellowed into my ear, rising at that moment and grabbing me in a horribly painful headlock.
Jesus kept yelling, and I remember some sort of confrontation with the security guards, but it's hard to remember any specifics because Jesus was grabbing tighter and harder, cutting off most of my oxygen. Then, after someone (maybe my mom) turned a fire extinguisher on him, he bolted outside into the snow.
Now, a mostly-naked man carrying a suffocating child does not last very long in a Vermont winter. Which is partially why his harrowing 6-mile sprint to the edge of the woods still seems so incredible today. I blacked out before we left the parking lot, a loud stream of profanity acting as a sort of perverse lullaby singing me to an oxygen-deprived sleep.
When I awoke the paramedics were treating the both of us for hypothermia. Police came and packed Jesus into a patrol car, and a nice officer gave me a lollipop and told me that I was a reasonably brave little boy, although a braver little boy could probably have had this situation under control a lot quicker. Then he said my mom was on her way to come take me home and she would be there any minute.
Forty-five minutes later my mom came driving up with some security guy she met at the bank. As she carried me to the car she told me that this whole experience had soured her on Christmas and Christiantity, and nice Mr. Tannenbaum (the guard) offered to help get her a spot in Judiasm. She said we would be Jews now, as soon as Danny (the guard) made some calls and no nasty Jesuses would bother me any more.
And that's what Christmas means to me.
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