I don’t remember ever believing in Santa. By age 5, I was already determined to catch my mom in the central lie of Christmas because it seemed much easier than catching her in the other more pertinent ones of my childhood — chiefly “where dad went.” So on Christmas Eve 1993, I camped out all night by the tree in my living room, keeping one eye open for her tired ass, which at 5 a.m. rolled in dragging a black trash bag full of presents.
I always chalked up my disbelief in Santa to an innate ability to grasp reality, even as a small child. A 1,747-year-old fat grandpa who rides around in the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer and visits every single kid in the world? I wasn’t buying it. But as I’ve ripened into my old age, I’ve homed in on why I never really bought the whole Santa schtick in the first place — and it has nothing to do with plausibility.
I didn’t believe in Santa because Santa fucking sucks.
Stay with me here: I know that Santa gives “good” children presents. But let’s admit that he doesn’t actually do that: Parents do. And yet, in an attempt to motivate our kids to behave all year long, we metaphorically outsource the gift-giving to some old dude in the sky—doing ourselves the double disservice of giving someone else credit for our own work and teaching children that the procurement of gifts isn’t actually connected to hard-earned cash.
Even putting aside the fact that his entire job is predicated on trespassing, Santa is a fascist who makes a list and checks it twice. He is a domme who thinks he’s the arbiter of who is naughty and who is nice. He is the surveillance state: He sees you when you’re sleeping, and he knows when you’re awake. And don’t get me started on how Santa is definitely going to get a handjob from your mom and more generally cultivate a culture of creepiness that exploits cold weather and the holiday tradition of binge-drinking (after all, baby, it’s cold outside!).
But this is just what Santa is doing to the world’s children — it’s nothing compared to what he puts his elves through. Perhaps Santa’s truest victims, elves are an entire species born into servitude. They spend all year making the toys in Santa’s shop, taking care of the reindeer, even updating their boss’s to-do (or don’t) list for no pay and little credit. Even worse: Their tyrannical overlord then gets to fly around the world lapping up the credit, cheating on his wife along the way (again, that nookie from Mom), all with the added bonus of free homemade cookies and milk. (It sounds a lot like your manager’s corporate business trips, if you think about it.)
Meanwhile, no one is advocating for the elves. Do they have health insurance? Do they ever get to retire? If so, what’s the pension like? Do elves get ANY time off? Or are they just cogs in the capitalist Christmas wheel that literally never stops churning? And as more and more kids request tech gifts like iPhones and PlayStations for Christmas, will the work of elves be outsourced? To Bangladesh? To Taiwan? To robotics? Is elfdom then a dying art? What hope is there for elves getting another kind of job with names like Alabaster Snowball and Bushy Evergreen?
I AM WORRIED ABOUT THE ELVES.
It’s clear that the cost of being an elf is high. From pop culture, we know that life as Santa’s helper means you never learn healthy eating skills, don’t emotionally mature past childhood and have an extremely dysfunctional relationship with authority figures like Santa, your spiritual Daddy, whom you must worship without question — not unlike our world’s children.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved elves. Though Santa is a farce, his real-world counterpoint surely isn’t: We all have our Santa, a guy who gets the credit for our hard work; a father we love undyingly regardless of how he treats us; an extremely old dude who sets the bar for what’s “good” and “bad” based on a bunch of bullshit.
As it’s been an embarrassing year for men in charge, I wish that this Christmas, we’d finally take that elf off the shelf—and put him in the middle of the goddamn table where he belongs.