Claus Is Coming to Town...NOT
I was a kid I, like millions of other children across America, ardently
believed in Santa Claus.
problem? That persnickety detail that I'm Muslim. Oh, and that I
happened to be living in Saudi Arabia at the time.
I was, in a desert nation, mere miles from Mecca, the birthplace
of Islam, captivated by mistletoe, turtledoves, Christmas lights,
and outlandish accounts of reindeer with remarkably unconventional
if my parents had any idea of the gusto with which we observed the
birth of Christ at the American school in Jeddah. Our music teachers
led us in rousing renditions of "Jingle Bells" and "Rockin'
Around the Christmas Tree"; we watched The Nutcracker ballet
on a video played from the VCR and erected whimsical gingerbread
houses; and the halls at school were decked most extravagantly indeed.
In art class I strove to craft the glitteriest, spangliest star
to take home to hoist atop our nonexistent tree. I was sad to discover
that Frosty the Sandman doesn't have quite the same ring, nor does
he hold together quite as well as his icier counterpart. And if
there were any irony to painstakingly poring over paper snowflakes
in the middle of the desert, it was lost upon me as we fashioned
our own little air-conditioned winter wonderland oasis. Who cares
if it was actually 90 degrees and there were only palm trees in
what fascinated me the most about this holiday was the existence
of one particular jovial, borderline obese, and strangely generous
man with impeccable time-management skills. I did not doubt Santa's
existence, and listened with reverent awe to Mrs. Faulker, our music
teacher, as she recounted tales of his heroics. I rejoiced when
Rudolph (with his nose so bright) got to drive his sleigh one night.
I tried extra hard to be good for goodness sake, because the potential
ramifications of winding up on the naughty list concerned me greatly.
And yes, I may have furtively dispatched a missive or two to the
North Pole. My parents usually just rolled their eyes and humored
me, occasionally even carting my ambitious letters off to the post
office. They must have just gotten lost in the mail, I consoled
myself, as December 25th came and went with nary a pink Barbie convertible
many people believe there's nothing wrong with letting kids get
caught up in this innocent fabrication while they're young. But
show me anything more heartbreaking than a gullible, sweet, frizzy-haired
child passionately believing in this mythology, only to realize
through an exhaustive investigation of her friends, that her jolly
old idol appears to peddle exclusively to Christian kids. I give
up food and water for a month every Ramadan, while they get stockings
and presents and fancy trees -- even the ones who are decidedly
more naughty than nice? Where is the justice?
a few years of receiving no love from Santa, even when I went all
the way to Michigan to sit on his lap in front of a Sears to earnestly
beseech him to include my humble abode in his travel plans, I stopped
seeing the world through red-and-green tinted glasses. I became
a pint-size Grinch. I secretly hoped Santa would drop the Kingdom
off his global itinerary. After all, there are no chimneys in the
desert. How would his big butt shimmy his way into a nonexistent
fireplace? And who was going to guide his sleigh through the dunes,
Razi the Red-Nosed Camel? Muahahahaha. But somehow that wily fatso
always found a way, and my classmates would come back to school
in January with reports of new clothes and bikes and Cabbage Patch
Kids and Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers and Transformers and Popples.
I got my own piles of presents on my birthday two weeks later, but
that wasn't the point. Was it too much to ask to be spoiled, just
one night a year, by a random red-suited stranger with a broad face
and little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowlful
of jelly? One who knows when you're sleeping, and knows when you're
we all can guess how this story ended: Eventually the truth came
out, devastating millions of young believers. But by then, I was
not among them. Knowing what I did about the not-so-enchanted origins
of those colorfully packaged presents, by the time that fat troll's
scam was finally revealed, I wasn't shouting, pouting, or crying.
I have a feeling that by the time I have kids of my own, they may
have a magical Eid Elf in their lives, mysteriously appearing at
the end of Ramadan with food and gifts galore.
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