By Seán Malone and John Sweetman
As we passed by Mikey’s Fish Stand … now selling Christmas trees, naturally our conversation turned to Christmas seasons long past.
Never to argue with John, but there is no “bad Santa Claus,” as he is modeled after a saint and always produces positive thoughts. Seán always argues with me “… and besides that, Santa is a made-up avatar of good and bad.”
Seán’s baby sister called two days ago, asking about Christmas events. It turns out that she had the famous “five-point chrome star” that always adorned the top of our tree growing up, but she had given it up to a junk collector as the ancient wiring that made the star blink in sequence had begun to smoke, thus signaling the demise of the legendary ornament.
In past decades, Island folks rarely bought trees. There were simply not enough sellers of trees, and in those times trees had to be “substantial” in order to bear the weight of decorations. Later, as we went through family remnants, after the passing of grandparents and others, we realized that the ornaments, lights, and other decorations were very heavy compared to these days, and possibly even hazardous to our eventual health, although being old now, maybe we just lucked out!
We both remember vaguely some white stuff that was used as “snow,” and upon later reflection, we think it was asbestos. Thin foil strips of lead were used as a rain drape and collected after each season to be reused. We don’t know how we got to be as old as we are with this background, but maybe overconsumption of Christmas sugar helped.
In those days, Christmas trees were put up a week before Christmas. This is because houses were heated by wood, coal, or oil, resulting in dryness, and the electric lights then in use were like small nuclear reactors that would dry out the needles if not turned off, and could result in fiery catastrophe. We remember that some families actually used flaming candles as lights, which no doubt resulted in occasional tragic Christmas fires.
The biggest Christmas accident Seán can recall is the year that mom’s two Siamese cats, Meeko and Chacre, took down the Christmas tree, breaking bulbs and lights and scattering decorations all over the living room floor. We did not blame the cats, as they had devious cat motives.
A note of caution for cat owners! Do not trust Siamese cats, no matter how innocent they appear! John recalls a tragic Christmas tree accident wherein two Siamese kittens chased an expensive ornament of a delicate glass bird up to the tree top and made a wreck of our decorations. We kids were nonplussed as we simply snacked on the broken candy canes while parents dealt with the mess.
Every year a debate occurred about “Santa!” Was he real? Was he coming?
One year, after the usual discussion of “Have you been good? Or have you been ‘bad’?”, it was asked:
“Is there a good Santa and a bad Santa?”
“Well, what do you mean?”
“Well, the good Santa brings us socks and underwear.” These were, of course, things meant to enhance our moral and physical well-being. In a word, boring.
But if there was a “bad Santa,” maybe he would bring us BB guns and comic books? These were things that could “put your eye out” and “rot your mind.” In a word, fun!
The question lay dormant, but one Christmas, there was a “Red Ryder” BB gun and some somewhat read-over comic books in the Christmas stockings. Plus, the usual nuts, chocolate, and oranges. That year, we liked the bad Santa.
This year, we both are hoping that Santa will bring us a bottle of decent single malt scotch, preferably Laphroaig. Or maybe we’ll just get socks and underwear.