Me, You & the Music I’m Putting You Through
~by Sheila Squillante
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
Music & Lyrics by Tommie Connor
Recorded by Jimmy Boyd
Santa Claus died on Easter Sunday, 1975 or ‘76.
I remember the thin spring sunlight coming through my morning window and the thrill of that first moment of wakefulness that sprung me out of bed and down the hallway to the living room to see.
Yes! It had come!
There, on the coffee table, two pastel plastic baskets wrapped in cellophane and heaped with jellybeans and sugared treats. A giant chocolate bunny towering above.
My sister and I, delighted, dug in. Our mother, equally delighted, gestured at the stairs coming from the front door, “Look, girls! Look what The Bunny left!”
On each step, a powdery paw print, whiter than the off-white carpeting, beautiful as brocade.
Wait just a minute…
It’s April in Lexington, KY. There is no snow on the ground and bunnies do not, unless they are suffering from some kind of horrible holiday alopecia, leave clumps of fur in perfectly tailored paw-shapes.
Thus did I, at five or six years old, call bullshit on this whole Easter Bunny Thing.
And then, in the next moment, the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns and, finally, Santa, all went POOF as well.
My mother saw the veil fall away and whisked me into the bedroom before I could spill my protest to my little sister. “Please,” she said, “help us pretend.”
I was fine with Project Santa Subterfuge. I liked feeling complicit with my parents, either out of the spirit of “keeping Santa alive for my sister,” or, more likely, because I liked getting one over on her.
And there’s so much to like about Christmas anyway, even without Santa. All the singing, for instance. Good (then) Catholic girl, I knew all the hymns (still do), and of course, all the secular ditties that came to us every year out of those Rankin Bass holiday specials. You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch…
But there was one song that pierced through the all the cheery Let’s Pretend and skewered me, sent me into deep Xmas funk.
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” fucked my shit up.
Please remember: I am an Old. The song I grew up with wasn’t the rockin’ John (I knew him first as Cougar) Mellencamp version, or Amy Winehouse’s (kind of awesome) rendition, or this one by Drake. This was the 1970s. We’re talking 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd backed by the Norman Luboff Orchestra and Choir. A treacly child’s voice singing in front of saccharine orchestration. More cavities than a loaded Easter basket.
The minute those notes—bells ringing, voices woo-wooing–would crackle through the hi-fi speakers, I would well up with tears, feel a black void open inside me.
And honestly, it still affects me that way.
But why? I must have understood that “Santa” was really Daddy, so it’s not like I fell for the central conceit of the song. It’s not like I was worried my parents were cheating on each other. (Even if they probably, eventually, would.) Maybe it was the conceit itself—Adultery! How festive! What holiday hilarity!—that undid me.
I was a rule-follower kid, so maybe I was worried that little Jimmy would get caught out of bed by his parents and get in trouble the night before Christmas. Would he still get his Busy Lizzie doll (let’s pretend 1970s parents gave dolls who ironed clothes to their sons)?
Or maybe what I hated about that song was the burden I imagined he felt as he “[crept] down the stairs to have a peep” to find his Mommy smooching under the mistletoe. Maybe I worried that he would think it was his responsibility to inform his Daddy about Mommy’s infidelity. Would he go back to his bed and not be able to stop his brain from churning, imagining the moment of confession? That’s a lot for a little boy to manage. It’s too much. Would it fully ruin his already fitful Christmas night sleep?
Or maybe I worried that Jimmy wouldn’t keep Mommy’s secret. Maybe his Daddy was a Mad Men-esque jerk face, or IBM executive who ignored his Mommy entirely for a suited-life in the office, a Man’s Life. For smart talk over two fingers of bourbon on the rocks in a cut crystal glass while Mommy ironed his work shirts and even, sometimes, underwear. (Hey, Busy Lizzie!)
Maybe his Mommy was lonely and stressed out and un-kissed and I thought Jimmy ought to leave her the fuck alone, let her have some fun for Christmas sake.
(I worried about a lot as a kid. I still do.)
Yep, Jimmy definitely should have stayed in bed.
But instead he crept downstairs, and okay, I get that part–Santa is magic and what kid can keep himself from that?–but notice, please, that he crept downstairs to peep ON MOMMY. It’s not called “I Saw Santa Pinching Mommy’s Ass,” after all. Maybe even at 7, 8, 9 years old, I felt the blame the song placed on Mommy for being an active kisser, for happily capitalizing on the mistletoe moment, and it depressed the shit out of me.
And isn’t there also a hint of threat inside the song? “What a laugh it would have been if Daddy had only seen….” But what if Daddy didn’t see through the ruse like I had? What if he didn’t laugh? What would happen if he was straight up pissed? Oh, yes. I worried. Never mind the illogic of it. I knew that Daddy was Santa—nobody’s cheating on anybody this Christmas–but poor Jimmy didn’t. (Though he doesn’t sound that perturbed by the scene, does he? He keeps it light as hell. I’m guessing Jimmy’s never had to pop the traditional Xmas Xanax.)
But don’t worry, Jimmy Boyd, you creepy little fucker. I’ll help you. My alliances go both ways. I kept Santa alive (for at least a few more years) for my little sister. I’ll happily wriggle in there, wedge myself between the offending kissers (bells ringing, voices woo-wooing) and yank down that snowy white beard to show you who you’re really dealing with…
Now. Get back upstairs, young man. You know Santa doesn’t come until all children are tucked up in their bedrooms, fast asleep. Besides, it’s late and Mommy wants to sip her bourbon hot toddy and watch Heat Miser launch fireballs at Snow Miser.
 Apparently the Catholic Church felt the same way in 1952, as they banned the song in Boston on the grounds that it “mixed kissing with Christmas.”
Sheila Squillante writes poems & essays in Pittsburgh.