Once again this year, Chow Bella writers are gnawing on the holidays -- in the form of stories of Christmas and food. Join us tonight, Tuesday, December 17, at 7 p.m. at Crescent Ballroom for a free reading. An appetizer: Katie Johnson's take on the holidays: Hope you have some Alka-Seltzer handy. Enjoy.
"Dead?" My sister looked confused.
"He passed away," corrected my grandmother.
"Oh, that Santa... So what about the Christmas party?"
"I don't know. I mean, I don't want to be rude, but this is a little inconvenient." My grandmother, whom we call Yia Yia, was writing down her list of holiday rations on a pad of fitting holly stationery.
"I feel like we should pay our respects somehow," I said. "Dump a 40 of eggnog on the sidewalk maybe."
"Yes, Yia Yia?"
Since I was old enough to sit up without assistance, I've been sitting up on the lap of a fat man named Kris Kringle. In truth, this particular Kringle was probably named Bill or Rick but he wasn't just your typical mall Santa. No, this well-worn Santa made house calls.
Every year at my grandmother's annual Christmas Eve party, the red-suited stranger would give a resounding knock on the front door of my grandparent's home -- a door that really no one but Santa Claus ever used, presumable because it was the only one he could fit through comfortably.
Sitting down in the living with a velvet sack of toys and a list of names, he would call up weary infants, eager children, begrudging adults, and teenagers whose faces best resembled that of death row inmates.
Like all of my idols, Santa was best enjoyed from afar. Posing for pictures on his lap, I could take in the smell of of the previous parties' fruitcakes washed down with too many holiday spirits.
When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, giving me a glimpse of teeth that spoke volumes about the poor state of Yuletide dental insurance, I couldn't help but think "gas mask," but instead I said "Barbie."
In my stiff tulle holiday dress, I did my best to avoid making contact with his beard, a hairy wonderland that no doubt housed the remnants of stale cookies, cigarette ash, and the snot of crying toddlers.
In short, the physical appearance of this inebriated St. Nick gravitated more toward "shabby" than it did "jolly" and I for one was amazed that he had made it this long.
In the interim years of finding a qualified replacement, my grandmother recruited uncles, fathers, and grandfathers to fill the reoccurring role, applying, hair, makeup, and an elaborate, but poorly insulated Santa suit.
While she did ultimately find a suitable Santa understudy and the evening of gift exchanging, chocolate chip cookies, Campbell's clam chowder, and Christmas music dating back no sooner than 1970 carried on as smoothly as ever, one thing became unmistakably clear to me at the rest of my family: Santas may die, but Yia Yia's traditions don't.