The Christmas season in Germany was beautiful and enjoyable for children... if you ignored the part called The Naughty List. I'm not sure how other children around the world took Christmas, but we took it with what I could only call unnecessary pangs of conscience. On the one hand, Christmas represented family, gifts, and expectancy. Nice things. On the other hand, Christmas resembled the Day of Judgment. No matter how naughty you were from January to November, the first day of December found you recounting all the naughty words, all the naughty deeds, and all the naughty thoughts you indulged in like a reprobate ragamuffin. And the DAY OF RECKONING eventually rolled around with all the contrived regret and gratuitous repentance my little child's soul could conjure up.
I remember once being put on The Naughty List close to Christmas (the tree was already up). As best my six or seven-year-old memory can recollect, it was for a homework infraction (or maybe several... and maybe for several other things, I honestly can't remember). I remember thinking There is no way for me to make this right before Santa comes. I mean, I needed to do enough good things to make Santa forget that I had even made The Naughty List. I had never heard of anyone who made the The Naughty List unmaking that list. I was screwed.
I remember more than one Christmas going to bed on Christmas Eve with the trepidation of an imminent Rapture. I was so frightened that I put my head under my covers and faced the wall, knowing full well that Santa would be in MY house that night. My head was full of the carol...
You better not shout
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town...
I heard the song as more of a threat...
You BETTER not shout
You BETTER not cry
You BETTER not pout
See, Santa knew if I was fake sleeping. Either I was really asleep or really awake. There was NO in between. And if I prayed to God, I prayed to Santa, too, to give me a genuine desire to sleep. But it didn't come in enough time before I heard someone moving about the living room, making his way into our hallway, and stopping right outside my door. It wasn't Santa Claus. It was Satan Claus.
Now, I am being completely honest when I say that in some places in Europe Christmas Day is like the day of reckoning. In America being on The Naughty List means fewer presents. In Germany, being on The Naughty List meant that you had your shoes filled with coal & switches. Which meant that you sucked.
Few children outside these European traditions understood that Santa had a helper... and he wasn't an elf. His descriptions varied, and none of us children really knew what he looked like, because he was typically levied as a threat to keep us in line. But we knew a few things. We knew that an enormous Santa entered normal houses through the chimney, but was never dirty upon arriving. Because he was good.
However, his more sinister side (who was covered in soot)... the one who took care of Santa's Naughty List) didn't care about his appearance. He would slide down chimneys and emerge with the switches (broom) he used to clean the chimney, dirty from head to toe, and trailing coal behind him. These fiery images were none other than the Devil.
Now, what was so interesting was that ultimately we all enjoyed a Happy (Merry) Christmas. But it came with a cost: unnecessary pangs of conscience. After waking up to stockings on Christmas Day, opening up presents, staying in our pajamas, and stuffing ourselves with treats, the more sinister aspects of Christmas were forgotten. And within a few days we were back to our old antics.
Having run my own school for 13 years, I've dabbled in methods of motivating students to do the things they ought. When I first opened my school, I wanted to offer students opportunities (a concept not unique to me) to advance in their studies. But these opportunities were only opportunities if they didn't come with consequences for not taking them. And I was consistent with that.
I've been a part of several designer communities (Look for my blog on LARPing... coming soon!) these last few years that sell themselves on benefits of "authentic living" and "belonging" and "organic community." Because most of us lack this kind of utopia in our lives, it's an effective lure to get us to take at least a peek inside. But once inside, almost each and every one of them have their own set of consequences, imposed upon the dabblers, the members or congregants if the opportunities they offered were ignored or spurned.
Subjecting oneself to communities like this, one's moral compass can get grossly misaligned and those special pangs reserved for true moral guilt are artificially engineered to be triggered more and more frequently. I knew someone who attended a private school who eventually left the community because he didn't agree with some asinine, medieval interpretation of some theological point that is moot in most of the world. On the one hand, he qualified to be in the community. But once in, he didn't really qualify because he refused the up-sells (They were true choices, weren't they?).
There were consequences for not taking those opportunities, for not going above and beyond, for not willingly wearing more pieces of flair than required...
And do you know what those consequences are? Unnecessary pangs of conscience if you stay. And no Christmas presents if you go.
For me, screw the Christmas presents.
(Here is a real opportunity below!)
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