Tag Archives: Santa Claus

A Wonder Gift Life: The Best Thing I ever Got

13 Dec

Most of us can easily remember the best Christmas present we ever received, but why does this memory stand out? In his classic work, “The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture,” James Barnett, from the University of Connecticut, said that Christmas gifts symbolize not only seasonal generosity, but also the inner life of the family group.

According to Barnett, an essential feature of the American Christmas is the belief that children have a “natural right” to a happy Christmas. Many parents try to recreate their childhood pleasure, while others are determined to provide the kind of Christmas they were denied.

According to University of California sociologist Allison J. Pugh, parents try to evoke the “magic of childhood” by means of “the wonder gift.” A wonder gift evokes sheer delight mixed with awe. It is not only something children like and want usually; they don’t really expect to get it. Most wonder gifts have some social disapproval that makes them even more desirable. Parents may try to convince children that they would never buy the coveted object. The gift may be thought to be too expensive, dangerous or age-inappropriate. This is a situation where the parent knows better but gets the wonder gift anyway. When she was very little, our daughter, Sally, told us that she knew there had to be a Santa Claus because no parent would ever “buy all that junk.”

Our social group sets the basic standard for gift-giving. Widespread emulation explains toy fads such as Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmos.

The wonder gift, however, demonstrates that the parents can recognize the child’s individuality. There is parental narcissism in not being able to resist being the miracle worker, but knowing exactly what the child wants can be important to their psychological health. Since we define ourselves in relationship to others, when we are given accurate feedback, it validates our sense of self. When someone else “gets you,” it is tangle proof that you are acceptable. Of course, there must be limits on what wishes are fulfilled, but children have a better grasp on this than we might think.

Once when my father was drinking, he bought me a very expensive go-cart at Sears. I must have been around 9 years old at the time, but even at that age, I knew that the gift was inappropriate. We certainly couldn’t afford it and there wasn’t even a place where I could legally drive it. When my mother stopped the delivery, I was more relieved than disappointed. Although, I wonder if this experience had anything to do with the expensive go-cart I bought for our children 20 years later.

For children, Christmas often takes on a special vibrancy that is lost in adulthood. This is probably related to the magical character of children’s thinking in the pre-operational stage of cognitive development, which is from ages 2 to 7 years. Children gradually sacrifice this wellspring of imagination for the sake of logical thought. But even in later childhood, they still can recall the magic — until maturity and hormones wash it away and Christmas no longer seems like Christmas. The wonder gift is a way to try to recapture those feelings.

In Jean Shepherd’s “The Christmas Story,” little Ralphie’s consuming passion is a Red Ryder air rifle — a perfect wonder gift. Although I grew up 25 years later, I completely identify with this obsession. In my case, as Freud wrote, the “exciting cause” of my illness was the Mattel snub nose .38 “Shootin Shell” revolver, complete with Greenie Stickum caps and shoulder holster. Possession of this holy grail of boyhood was my one chance to hold my own with my perennial rivals.

Deep down, I knew I could never truly compete with all my friends who had innumerable uncles who perpetually scoured the planet to find the most amazing and attractive toys to bring before them . But the possession of a snub nose .38 revolver was a redemption of sorts. Like Ralphie’s air rifle, I believed this sacred object would grant me all the things children feel deficient in — power, confidence and status.

Also like Shepard’s protagonist, I was not very subtle in dropping hints. With Saturday morning television commercials whipping me in to a frenzy, I made a Christmas list with only one item on it. I knew I would get other things, but I didn’t want to leave any doubt what the priority was.

On Christmas morning, the whole Jean Shepherd story played itself out. Just like Ralphie, I ripped open every package, but no snub nosed .38 materialized. I received some very nice stuff, but I was in a daze of disappointment. All I can remember is sitting under our Christmas tree in a pile of wrapping paper, staring at yellow bubble lights and feeling devastated. I was on the verge of tears, when with a flourish, my father produced one last present like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The old man sure did know how to build the suspense. As I opened it, I could hardly believe my eyes and my good fortune.

Jane Austin has one of her characters say that he disliked surprises because they only increase the inconvenience considerably and do nothing to enhance the pleasure.

I may agree, but that Christmas all I could I feel was the wonder and the ecstasy. I strapped on the hard black plastic shoulder holster and insisted on wearing my Sunday suit that had an Eliot Ness-style vest — to capture the complete G-Man motif. My visiting relatives even complimented me on how nice I looked that Christmas Day. Little did they know I was packing deadly heat just beneath that Robert Hall jacket.

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Santa’s Christmas Cat?

24 Sep

Claus, our two year old cat seems to be on a rampage over the holidays.  He won’t stay away from the artificial tree and  when I went into the family room the other day  the real Christmas tree was   laying on the floor. The rug was soak with water from the tree stand and Claus was nestled in the branches, denying any knowledge of how it could have possibly have happened. Although a very attractive cat, Claus unfortunately is an inveterate liar.  
For example,  all winter he keeps insisting that he wants to go outside. He is a very vocal cat—  not a desirable trait in a feline. He sit by the door for hours,  whining about how he needs to see a man  about a rodent or something.  But no sooner than you let  him out than he is on the other side of the door complaining about how cold it is outside.  You would think he could at least go to the bathroom while he was out there, but noooo,  that might  be too uncomfortable for his majesty. He saves it up,  apparently preferring his litter box that I have to clean
The other day my wife Diane let him out the back door and then went down to the basement where she immediately met him again.  Evidently Claus has learned to dematerialize and  reappear in  our basement at will.
Diane and I constantly compare him to our previous cat, Hobbes.  Poor Claus is like   the second wife in Daphne du Maurier ‘s  novel Rebecca,  who must compete with the memory of  the beloved  first wife.  Hobbes was one in a million:  an elegant gentleman cat  and Claus, I am afraid to say, is no gentleman.  Unlike the noisy and disconcertingly human-sounding Claus,  Hobbes only meowed  his orders once and expected and usually received  total  obedience. If we didn’t rush to  open the door at his first command, Hobbes would simply  walk away and act totally indifferent, there was none of this pedestrian  squalling.  Also Hobbes always did his business outside, bless his cat soul.
Of course, we have a selective memory when it comes to  Hobbes. He wasn’t perfect either,  if the truth be told.  As a kitten he ran up our  Christmas  tree and batted at every ornament  he saw.  
There was even one Christmas when the  great Hobbes totally disgraced himself.    Against our better judgment and express wishes, our oldest  son   brought another cat into our  house. This new  cat, Clawdy, was a female who had shared an essentially feral existence with a bunch of  college boys.  Clawdy immediately took  possession  of Hobbes’ favorite   place  our bedroom. Hobbes was too much of a gentleman  to evict a lady and besides Clawdy had become  terribly ferocious,  competing  with   college boys for   pizza scraps and having to use a filthy litter box that was hardly ever changed— much like the boys’ apartment bathroom if I remember correctly. 
Thus having both gender and territoriality issues,  Hobbes apparently  wanted to make certain that everyone in the house  knew that the  shiny presents under the tree were his property, which caused Diane, an obsessive compulsive wrapper, to almost have a seizure.
Last winter Claus was outside during an  ice storm and managed to get severely injured. We don’t know  exactly wheat happened,  but he managed to drag himself up the porch steps and to lay next to the dog.  Fortunately our son-in-law, Jeff is an emergency veterinarian near Cincinnati  and managed to patch him back together. We are also  lucky that cats have great recuperative powers. Jeff says if you throw two pieces of cat  in a room,  they will grow together into a cat. Claus was in intensive care  at my daughter and Jeff’s  house for several months, while my granddaughters nursed him back to health. I am not sure Claus truly appreciated all the attention, wearing a baby bonnet,  or riding in the doll stroller. Except for the indignity of having several inches removed from the tip of his tail, he recovered  remarkably, given the extent of his injuries. And he can still catch a mouse, he would like  you to know.
Claus was  named by our middle son after friend of his from Germany, but we still think of him as a Christmas cat. At the restaurant at Holiday World there are several paintings of Santa’s workshop  and many of them contain a cat that   has the same unique markings as Claus. We told our granddaughters that the paintings  prove  that Claus is related to Santa’s cat. They just smile back at us skeptically and humor us,  as if we were completely insane, much the way our  children do.  

     
Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (http://newsandtribune.com/)