Southern One


Just a simple country boy

Reindeer feeding ritual revisited

George and Jack on a Christmas Day decades ago in Fayetteville, N.C.

I not only helped inflict the myth of Santa Claus on my sons George and Jack, I made feeding his eight tiny reindeer a Christmas Eve ritual.

My Aunt Betsy Frink Adams gave us spiced “Reindeer Food” one Christmas (Or was it a gift from my first cousin, Betsy Holden?). The boys and I put out a tidy pile of sweet oat hay, which had been stockpiled to keep our pet chickens warm, and sprinkled it with the special “Reindeer Food.”

After the boys were sound asleep, I’d gather up all but a few wisps of the hay and use a three-pronged cultivating rake to make reindeer hoof marks over the feeding spot and across part of the lawn, inevitably leaving behind traces of Aunt Betsy’s mix.

The next morning, the boys’ grandmother’s big Bouvier des Flandres would show persuasive interest in the reindeer tracks (because they were spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg from the “Reindeer Food”).

The existence of Santa’s tiny reindeer thus affirmed by the ecstatic dog, both boys would settle into another few days of blissfully believing in a Jolly Old Elf who brought them gifts.

It only worked for a year, or maybe two, my sons eventually told me. They were angry at the time. I think they had begun to understand that they had been made a show of for the watching adults.

Fun though it was, and entirely well-intended, it was still exploitative lying, like the commonplace and commercially convenient newspaper pretense that there is a Santa Claus. But worse. Because I was setting a parental example of socially convenient lying. for fun.

I was showing my love for them, but fun though it was, what I did was a mistake. There are equally satisfying theatrics that are honest and that do not encourage retreat to unrealistic fantasy worlds.

We might have had as much fun, and had it honestly, by defiantly studying the astronomy and implications of the Solstice. That tradition would not have ended with childhood’s credulity but would instead have fostered realistic discussions of why the 25th is Christmas Day.


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