We cross paths at Con on the Cob each November and have a great time playing foil to the other’s sensibilities, to the delight of children as well as the grown ups. Last year after the convention I wrote a novelette about how Gandersnitch first met Santa, (It is the first story in my soon to be released 2nd book of short stories.) This year we enacted a plan to have Gandersnitch turn him into a Troll. It was awesome!
So yes, I am friends with a professional Santa Claus. When I was seriously thinking about swapping my brown for a more holiday themed red, he was very helpful in giving advice on how to move forward. I decided that ultimately, I wasn’t ready to make the jump yet. But the idea of Santa Claus, the imagery and the magic, is still very important to me. Which is why I almost did not move forward with this year’s idea.
The week before Thanksgiving was a rough one for my son. He gets frustrated easily, which snowballs into destructive tendencies and tears. I knew that he had met my friend Santa, and I figured that maybe a reminder that the holidays were coming up might help cut back on the fighting, shouting, and general grumpiness.
My comment that he better straighten up because I KNEW Santa and had his phone number right there in my cell phone didn’t make any difference. So being the crazy sort of theatre person I am, I decided to go one better. A telegram from the Naughty List!
First line of research: Can you even send a telegram anymore? Yes, yes you can. But it is rather expensive.
Second line of research: Has anyone done an online Naughty List service? Sorta. There are things you can download, usually for free. And one guy on fiverr that would send a letter from Santa. Not really what I was looking for.
Ok, no problem. I can make something that looks official and just send it by mail.
Third line of research: What does a telegram even look like? Hey! They look pretty awesome!
So I set about mocking up a Naughty List telegram. The original idea was that there would be a 1st Warning, 2nd Warning, and Final Notice. Rather like a bill. And then I stopped. I wondered what would happen if my son got this telegram telling him to straighten up. Would it be devastating? Would it cause more problems? I imagined the joy of getting mail turned to shock and horror in a young child’s eyes and I tabled the idea. I knew I didn’t have it quite right just yet.
Thanksgiving came and went, and the file on my computer nagged at me. I opened it up and sighed. It looked good! Was this an idea that might help parents deal with stressful kids during the holidays? Was this something that might do some good? Or was this really a terrible idea? I didn’t quite know.
So I asked facebook.
Plenty of my friends thought it was great! Some thought it was a bit extreme. At least one questioned if it would foster more belief in a mythical being and thus further erode the foundation of reason in my kids at an early and impressionable age.
I still wasn’t sold – so I asked Santa.
He reminded me that he doesn’t want ANY kids on the naughty list. That all kids should have happiness, and joy, and magic at the holidays and to be careful not to use the idea of Santa Claus as a threat, or as negative reinforcement. See, this was what was bugging me…
And then it clicked.
What if the Naughty List wasn’t a negative? What if it was a congratulatory letter? A silly tongue in cheek sort of thing that celebrated being on the Naughty List in a positive way, instead of as a warning! What if it was all a misunderstanding fostered by Gandersnitch the Goblin, who now believed that after his prank on Santa he was in charge of the Naughty List this year, and was doing the fat man a favor by encouraging kids to be naughty? Maybe this idea would work after all!
But it could not just be a sterile government style telegram. There had to be a letter as well, one that welcomed kids to the Naughty List with full celebration and sincerity, and then reminded them that their membership was not a done deal, so they better not start behaving or they would be off this list in a snap. The letter was crafted, the wife was consulted, and we were pretty confident we had found the fun in the Naughty List.
This was something that people could use. This was something that was silly, clever, and might just make a shred of difference to a family at the holidays. This was something that would make a great gag gift as well. This was a service people might actual get some value out of, even if the value was only comedic. But it wasn’t quite done.
I showed the mock up I had done with my son’s name to the ladies in the front office of my kids elementary school. They liked it. I figured we were good to go. When I picked up my kids from school, my son saw the envelope with his name on it. He asked with excitement if he had gotten mail. I let him open it. His sister read the letter to him. His eyes went wide.
“It’s not true! It’s not true! I am not on the naughty list.”
His sister saw the signature at the bottom and laughed, “Dad! You did this!” I explained to my son what we were doing. He didn’t say anything at all. Instead he started to crumple up the mockup and I stopped him. “Hey! I still need that!”
The website was launched. A few folks signed up, and letters were customized. Forms filled out, checked twice, signed and stamped. The envelopes were about to be sealed up and again I stopped. Something was still missing. There was no icing on the cake, no cherry on the top. We could order stickers, but those would not get here in time. Buttons would be awesome, but then they could not be mailed in a fancy envelope with a North Pole stamp… Candy canes would get crushed in the mail. Cookies?
Come to the Dark Side, we have Cookies! (or at least a cookie recipe…) Kids on the Naughty List get cookies!
So even if there was a glimmer of trauma, even if the kid took it harder than his or her parents intended, there was a built in parachute. There was a reward for playing along. You got to bake cookies with your mom or dad! The fun was settled. The envelopes sealed.
The first batch of welcome letters have now gone out. I hope they don’t cause trauma, and instead add a little sliver of magic to some stranger’s holidays. I may not be ready to retire the goatee for a full fledged beard just yet, but maybe there is a place for Gandersnitch in the modern Xmas myth. This year he is the Top of the Naughty List and is really excited that you might join him!
Oh, and if you want to sign up and help cut Santa some slack this year, you can do so right here: naughty.wicked-clever.com