Channel the entity "Jeff Parker" from beyond the Ether

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Town That Hung Santa Claus 

Actually the title of the national news article was "Burlington: The Town That Hung Santa Claus," and it referred to Burlington, North Carolina, where I grew up. Even better, the incident in question took place on the very street I lived on.Yes, like me you would probably have preferred "Hanged," but the AP was not interested in that kind of accuracy. All of Burlington had not conspired to hang Santa either; previously we were known for our fabrics and clothes outlets.

It was the 70's, whatever year I was in 5th grade, when one day in December everyone in the neighborhood was walking down the street to see what the buzz was about. The Episcopal Church at the end of Collins Drive had strung up a dummy dressed as Santa to their marquis, classic noose-style (and before someone writes in to put me straight on Episcopalians and what they really stand for, don't- I don't care. That's what these people called themselves on the sign from which Kris Kringle swung.) Children were bawling and parents were ranting. The sign itself said something like "abandon Satan Claus" and soon people from all over town were cruising our block as if we were one of those streets where every house goes all-out with the Christmas lights. In fact, all the decoration-cruising in the area was done in front of just one guy's house in Graham. Lights cost real money back then, they didn't just give them away at Walmart like now.

Representatives of the church talked to the press about the usual: the pagan origins of Santa, how this Claus figure was subverting the message of Christmas, etc. In fact, Christianity subverted the pagan holiday because ancient clerics knew darn well everyone wasn't going to give up some sweet deal where everyone got presents and food. If they could have figured how to co-opt Halloween, they would have gotten that one too. Of course, no one was arguing these points, people were just yelling at the church and honking loudly as they drove by because they wanted Claus cut down. I tagged along one day with my friend Frankie and his dad who wanted to find out more about this sect. A smiling church official told us more about their practices, and the one that stuck in my noggin was that their men and women swam in separate pools fully clothed in the Summer. Frankie's father had no luck in convincing them to unstring Santa, but I began my private battle. In the mornings while eating my Cheerios, I'd break out my crayons and draw different pictures of Santa pleading, saying things such as "Ho ho ho, my neck hurts", and "Ho, ho, ho, you're being naughty." I did this for about a week, running down and placing my works in their mailbox and running back up the street in time to catch the bus. (Number 136, I just remembered.) This amused me and my friends at the busstop to no end, until of course a few days later when they finally took down the effigy. Even though I'd sounded outraged when talking about the whole thing with my schoolmates, I was pretty disappointed when I didn't see the red suit hanging there anymore. We went back to being the town that made socks and pantyhose, and my street returned to being the road you turned on when you accidentally passed Elderway, which you wanted to cut through on to get to Tucker Street. Years later Burlington got momentary notoriety again when a study declared its population leading the nation in fast food consumption per capita, but that wasn't nearly as fun.


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