Around this time, a good number of years ago, I took the children to see Santa Claus. He was a very good Santa Claus. The white hair and beard were his own. He was just fat enough to be convincing, rather than ridiculous, and his chatter and ho-ho-hos sounded genuine. Then he blew it.
As we were leaving Santa said: “I’m looking forward to the milk and cookies you always leave out for me.”
That remark just about put paid to my young and innocent children’s belief in the jolly old elf. We never left him milk and cookies. Ever.
I did my best: “Oh, Santa. You must have us confused with the neighbors. You know we always leave you pizza and beer.”
When I was small, we, too, left out the traditional cookies and milk. One memorable year, it was all captured in a home movie. There we are, all three of us (ages about six, four and two), in pajamas, waving to the camera and walking down the hall with a plateful of cookies and a glass of milk, which we carefully leave by the fireplace.
This peaceful family scene suddenly shatters and becomes an action drama as we older girls chase the little brother back down the hall and attempt to pound him. His crime? He had swiped one of Santa’s cookies and stuffed it in his mouth (also caught on camera by my imperturbable father), and we knew with deadly certainty that that bit of naughtiness would most likely be reason enough for Santa to skip our house. And someone had to pay.
I never thought about this milk and cookie tradition until I became a parent and I realized I would have to drink a glass of milk. I loathe milk. Always have. Normally I’m a bit quicker on the uptake, but it didn’t occur to me that I could just pour the offending liquid down the sink; besides, that would be wasteful. I may loathe it, but I’m not going to waste it. In any case, pouring it away wouldn’t really have solved the problem, either, as I don’t have a sweet tooth. The cookie part didn’t interest me at all.
Why, I wondered, do we do this? Why, of all the things to choose, do we here in the U.S. have to land on milk and cookies – just like we are in kindergarten? The Brits leave out mince pies and sherry, the Irish leave him Guinness, and the Australians leave him a glass of beer. (I’m actually kind of surprised that in this health conscious day, we don’t just tell him to share the carrots we leave for Rudolph.)
St. Nicholas –the original Santa Clause – was by all accounts kind to children and would no doubt have accepted a glass of milk and a plate of cookies had he been offered them. But you can’t convince me that anyone who would go to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and while there, punch the heretic Arias in the face for not agreeing that Jesus is God, would choose milk as his beverage of choice.
Or for that matter, in our more modern times, do you think that anyone crazy enough to circle the globe – in one night – in an open sleigh – in the dead of winter would do it all on a glass of milk? If someone told you a story about a guy driving a sleigh behind eight tiny reindeer wouldn’t think that there must be alcohol involved?
Therefore, I decided to add some. To help with the verisimilitude of this whole tale, if nothing else. As soon as the children were old enough to have heard of the cookie and milk tradition, I explained to them that I thought Santa was probably pretty tired of only milk and cookies, and would really like something different once in a while. And that I thought pizza and beer would be a good place to start.
For years they helped me make a pizza on Christmas Eve, which we ate for our supper, being careful to make sure there would be a leftover piece for Santa. Sometimes, when I was feeling very much in touch with my Irish roots, we left Santa a Guinness. Other times we left him some interesting-looking beer. Something we knew he would like to try.
My plea to parents is this: be good to Santa. Be different. He really doesn’t want more cookies. And he is developing lactose intolerance from all that milk.
Even with the children long gone, The Hunter and I will be enjoying a pizza and beer this Christmas Eve. It’s tradition. And should Santa want to stop by for old times sake, there will always be a glass for him.