Mesa Musings: Cotton Santa's history comes to light

December 19, 2011|By Jim Carnett
(Courtesy Jim Carnett )

Santa Claus celebrates his 60th birthday in our household this holiday season.

I speak not of Father Christmas, who's more like 400 years old and dates back to 17th century Britain, or St. Nick, who was birthed in New York some time in the 19th century.

I'm talking about a little 6-inch-tall, cotton-ball Santa who joined my family in December 1951. He's been perched atop the loftiest branches of our Christmas tree — next to the angel — every year since.

That's 61 Christmases this year.

My mother and father hosted him on their tree for decades. Now my eldest daughter, Jenn, proudly carries on the tradition. My brother and sister, our seven children and our seven (to date) grandchildren have all paid homage to cotton-ball Santa over the years.

Little Santa was a party favor I collected at a Christmas party in Miss Collins' second-grade class at Corona del Mar Elementary School in '51. To be sure, the story of his introduction into our family has been substantially embellished over the decades in the fog of holiday exuberance. In fact, the story wasn't finally fully vetted until Christmas last.


I was 6 when I proudly brought Santa home. Though I thought I was clear in conveying to my parents that Santa had been a party favor, that, apparently, was not the case. They chose to believe that cotton-ball Santa was my handiwork.

Au contraire.

Last year, my 87-year-old mother sat down her 4-year-old great-granddaughter to relate to her the cotton-ball Santa tale. I was forced to intervene.

"No, Mom, I didn't make Santa," I protested during the poignant retelling of the family narrative. "He was a party favor."

My words were followed by stunned silence.

"You mean you didn't make him?" Her tone revealed deep distress. "You didn't create him with your own little hands?"

My mother, quite obviously, was having difficulty accepting my shocking admission.

"Then why have we kept him on the tree all these years?"

Her rebuke was painful.

"Mom, I've never claimed to be his creator," I said defensively. "I guess I never paid attention to the fact that you thought otherwise."

"Your dear departed father thought all these years that you made our Santa. He was so proud."

"Mom, we keep Santa on our tree because he's a family heirloom and a link with our past."

I tried desperately to salvage the season.

Thankfully, she soon brightened. It was Christmas!

I attended CdM Elementary from 1949-52, until our family moved from Newport Beach to Costa Mesa.

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