I Believe In Father Christmas, or: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It (Xmas #6)

BLOG Me Winter 1970

Me during the winter of 1969-1970.

Originally published on OpenSalon.com on December 5, 2013

.Here is another off-topic post for the Christmas season.  Two years ago over on Open Salon, they had an open call soliciting folks to share their tales about how they discovered that Santa Claus was indeed a sham.  I was too busy during that and the previous xmas season to tell my tale, and so, with my usual out-of-whack timing, here is my story for you now.


“If you think about it, Santa Claus is directly responsible for heroin addiction.  Innocent children are brainwashed into believing the first big lie their parents ever tell them, and when the truth finally hits, they never believe them again.” 

John Waters, “Why I Love Christmas” from Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (1987).


It was 1969, and as one of December’s children, I was ending my adventure of life as a six-year-old and looking forward to seven and the seventies.

My dad was working at a car dealership at the time, and each year they held a private Christmas party on a Sunday for the children of employees.  Everyone would show up with their families in tow.  Sugared-up urchins raced around saucer-eyed at the thought of an audience with Mr. Claus and of the new toy each would be going home with, as a tide-over until the big day.

I was one of those excited urchins.  However, truth be told, I was already starting to have a strong skeptical streak regarding the red-felt-suited Christmas figurehead.  I had been grilling my parents on the inexplicability of many Santa-related incongruities.

“How can Santa be present at so many malls at the same time?”

“How can Santa possibly get into every home around the world over the course of one night, even when taking into account the different time zones?”

“How can Santa get into our living room when we don’t have a fireplace?”

(Answers: “He has his helpers fill in for him at certain locations.”; “He just does.” “He knows how to get into homes other ways” … This last explanation left me concerned about our household vulnerability and of burglars also being able to get in and steal our gifts.)

After waking on Christmas morning, finding my stocking filled with treats and the plate in the living room bereft of cookies and the glass of milk drained of the white liquid, I was momentarily satiated.

Still … once the yuletide euphoria had worn off, I remained wary.  Something didn’t pass the smell test about it all, but I wasn’t about to question too much in the face of shiny, keen-o new toys arriving at Chez Various pour moi.

Until that fateful dealership party day.

Me winter 1960s

Me during a winter at some point in the 1960s.

It was held in some big rented room.  Linoleum floors.  Long tables covered with red and green plastic covers with festive motifs. Reflecting decorations of silver and gold, strung and glistening from the ceiling.  Hyper-faced gaggles of kiddywinks all tucked uncomfortably into dreaded kinder-dress-up wares.   Dads in mustard blazers, with neatly trimmed hair and encroaching sideburns.  Mums in season-specific blouses and skirts, taupe panty hose, and unsensible shoes.  The scents of Aqua Net or French Formula, Hai Karate or Old Spice, co-mingling with smoke from copious burning Players or Benson & Hedges cigarettes saturating the air.

Shortly before Der Redstuff was due to make the scene, my dad disappeared toward the back of the hall, ostensibly to take his turn helping out with dispensing drinks to the gathered.  I was highly displeased by this as I had wanted my father to witness my audience with Saint Nick.

“Your dad will be right back,” said mum.

When he wasn’t right back in time for Santa baby’s entrance, I was proper ornery.

“See, he’s right there at the back, helping out with drinks.”

“I don’t see him, mum.”

“He must been in the back room for a moment getting some more supplies.”

Resigned that daddy-o would miss my merry moment of collecting my coveted booty, I impatiently awaited my turn to be called upon to go forth, hop up on the bearded one’s lap, confirm that I had been a good boy during the previous 12-month-span (as if), itemize what I was hoping to find under the tree this year, and then pick up my preview-of-coming-attractions toy for departing contestants. As soon as the dulcet tones of “VariousArtists” (or whatever I was going by at that time) rang out through the echo-y hall, I hopped off my chair and made my way to the podium for a brief chit chat with Mr. C.

“Ho Ho Ho!,” he bellowed, as I slid onto his knee and participated in a brief exchange.  Theoretically, the whole thing went exactly as I had expected.  On cue at the conclusion of this good-boy-for-stuff consumer goods negotiation, I was handed a toy by his kindly helper — I can’t remember what it was — and then slithered off his knee and back to my seat next to my mother.


“Let’s see what Santa gave you.”

“That wasn’t Santa.”

“Oh, yes it is.”

“That wasn’t Santa, that’s dad.”

“No it’s not.  Your father has been at the back helping out the whole time.”

“Mum, I know my own father.  Besides, I recognized his shoes.”

Dads Shoes
My dad’s feet and shoes, mid-1960s.


“I Believe In Father Christmas” Greg Lake (1975)

 “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (1967)

Previous Christmas-Themed Entries:

Xmas #1: December 1986: My 3 Xmas Weekends From Hell Snuggle in for a heartwarming seasonal tale of being a store manager and having to endure armed robberies, flouncing Christian employees, slap-happy Santa helpers, and looting mall rats. Merry Christmas to one and all!

Xmas #2: Twisted Seasonal Sounds: A John Waters Christmas The Pope of Filth curates what is probably the most “unique” collection of seasonal tunes on the market, filled with redneck children singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, ornery tourette-inflected C&W, Theremin-driven toe tappers, and other joyfully questionable sonic Christmas delights.

Xmas #3: Ludicrous Seasonal TV: Star Wars Holiday Special George Lucas once said of this special “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.” Read here and find out why.

Xmas #4: KA-CHING-A-LING: Xmas Advertising Highlights 1949-2011

Xmas #5: Christmas Advertising: LIFE Magazine, November 30, 1959

Previous Magazine-Related Entries:

Mid-Century Modern: Life Magazine, January 2, 1950

Mad Men -Era Artefact: Maclean’s Magazine, Sept. 4, 1965

Sing Out!: Highlights from the Folk Music Bible, 1964-1966


Text © 2013 VariousArtists

Comments From the Original OpenSalon.com Posting

Fun read for those who still believe! R

Ack. Winters in London were always a pain in the ass. Had to do my paper route in the dark with a toboggan.

Don’t know exactly when I stopped believing in Santa Claus — if I ever did — so it couldn’t have been much of an enlightenment, much less the soul-crushing revelation it apparently was for some. You obviously had the brights to figure it out for yourself.

Anyway, nicely done as always, VA.


Marilyn: I almost let this piece of info slip last weekend when a young’un was around my vicinity last weekend, as I’d forgotten he was in the next room. Oops. Thanks for dropping by.

Boanerges: Well, I knew damn well that Dad wasn’t one of Santa’s helpers … that did it. And when I was a kid in London, I used to love going tobogganing over at Fanshawe. We’ve got early colour film of me doing so.

Man Various, at six you were already growing skeptical? I was so taken with the idea of Santa that I was nine before I allowed myself to entertain doubts. Great detective work on the shoes. It’s been ages since I heard that Zappa song. I’d forgotten how weird it was, especially for its time.
Abra: Apparently I drove my folks nuts with questions of every stripe. The whole “multiple mall Santas” was the key for me, but the shoes did it. As for the song, I respect Zappa more as an artist than as a fan of his music, but I do like some of his early stuff and this is number is one of them. Yeah, it’s out there but in a good way. And while not really an ELP fan either, I like the Greg Lake number as a seasonal tune.

VA, thanks for sharing your wonderful story and photos! It’s surprising the dealership party arrangers didn’t have an outsider to play Santa given the example how easy it would be to discover the true identity of Santa at the party.

Also, in photo #2 it looks like a Corvair to the right of the pic–the first time I’ve seen a photo of one in the snow!

designanator: My dad later told me that he refused the request to play Santa at the party several times over but was eventually worn down as they thought he would be perfect — and I think a bottle of good scotch was worked into the deal (which he never received, and was not happy about that). And I believe you are correct re: the Corvair. It would have been my Aunt’s car, who was living with us at that time.


    1. Well, red usually is my go-to (actual) colour in tandem with black and white. As for those mustard blazers, whenever I think of the early ’70s, three colours always come to mind for me: mustard yellow, brown and orange. Especially orange.

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