Sunday, December 24, 2006

The most paranoid time of the year

When you're a kid, Christmas can be a very weird time. Most of us are raised to believe in a secret society of diminutive magical creatures ruled over by a pleasantly obese man in a red suit. These "elves" monitor our behavior year-round and annually pronounce judgment on us in the form of gifts ideally suited to our moral character. Rare are the stories of some kid having his stocking filled with coal or fossil fuels, but there's always the threat hanging over you that if you don't shape up you'll be the only kid without any candycanes to his name come December 26th.

Of course, everyone knew the system was rigged. The rich kids next door always wound up with the best stuff, even when you knew for a fact they hadn't been any less naughty than you all year. And no matter how much trouble your siblings got into on the days prior to Christmas, the fat man always seemed to come through for them.

As you start getting tall enough to peer over your pile of presents to see the strings being pulled from above, you begin to realize the real nature of the game. Christmas was invented to keep us in line. The one dimensional naughty-nice continuum turns out to be a philosophical fiction, just a way for the powers-that-be to get you staring over your own shoulder and policing yourself for once. And if the other kids don't catch up with you first, your parents just come right out and tell you that the flying caribou and sweatshop gremlins with whom you had this complex love/hate/fear relationship for years aren't even real. So you turn your back on the whole myth until it's time to repeat the cycle yourself and pass on the lie for another generation.

Or so they would have you believe. Despite decades of scientific progress and putting a man on the moon, there are corners of the North Pole left unexplored. Every year hundreds of thousands of children write letters to the man in red-- pouring out their hearts, baring their selfish little souls, and possibly dropping some dirt on the naughty habits of their peers. The end result is enough marketing data to predict the purchasing habits of the entire world, and a collection of secrets regarding the juvenile offenders of our globe that Big Brother could only dream about.

Ask yourself for a second exactly why you assume Santa isn't real. Thousands of agents with his exact likeness are spotted every year at department stores around the country. NASA claims to help direct him across the globe, and articles detailing his holiday plans slip unnoticed past the radar of most news junkies. The most exhaustive network of kid informants in the world report in to the north pole come Christmas time, and everyone still assumes it's all about charity. Who do you think picks up those royalty checks on all the merchandise, all the self-inflating giant Santas which float over people's lawns like jolly gargoyles and all the countless ornamental and ornamented facsimiles of the supposedly omniscient chimney climbing toy tycoon? The thing is, Christmas's real business isn't in gifts. The fat man deals in information. And he has more of it than you could possibly imagine.

The greatest trick Santa ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. And just like that, poof, he's gone.

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