I’ve always hated Santa Clause. Santa doesn’t look anything like my family. We couldn’t pass him off as our creepy uncle, even if we wanted to. Even if his first name is Santa, he’s no saint to me. When I was an infant in 1983, my mother took me to the Fashion Fair Mall to take my picture with Santa. In the photo, I’m wearing a sweat suit, the color of sugarplums gone stale, and my dark hair set against the white snow of a faux beard forest. My mother laughs nervously on the other end with her feathered hair and large brown eyes. In the picture, I’m screaming into the celluloid abyss.
Every Christmas, my brother and I had a mass of presents under the tree. The tag always said that the presents came from Santa. My dad grew up in the barrio and would shake his head at the way my mother’s family gifted us at Christmas. He thought we were brown kids rotting fast on the inside. During Christmastime, the adults in my mother’s family ate menudo and tamales for breakfast, while all the children ate reindeer-faced pancakes with bacon ears and whipped cream eyes, and maraschino cherry noses.
At nightfall, our elders hushed to bed with the looming threat of Santa. Santa won’t bring your presents until you are in a deep, deep sleep. Lying still in the pitch dark of my room at my grandparent’s house, I could hear my mother and Tía Martha laughing in the kitchen, the blades in the electric mixer wheeling like women, and the crush of glass ornaments in suicide falls. I could hear my grandmother yelling at my grandfather in Spanish I couldn’t understand, while his cowboy boots click-clacked furiously on the midnight linoleum because Santa was coming.
The milk was halfway gone in the morning, and the cookies were always gone—crushed bits of candy cane dough and gingerbread man-speckled my grandmother’s china. I’d pick at the leftover bits and wonder where the other parts of the men were. Their arms, legs, and heads screamed in the dark parts of some Santa I had never seen in the flesh before.
When I became a mother, I started to say fuck off to Santa. Christmas was a financial setback for years because I wanted to ensure my son had presents to open for Christmas. And because it was hard, I taught my son to reject Santa, and I wanted him to know that every one of his presents came from his family. I have always found power in rituals, but just because something is powerful doesn’t mean it is always empowering.
The cult of Santa is a powerful ritual, but it wastes time and energy for me. I reject Santa because I find him oppressive. Santa is an incubus. Santa came into my space without asking, trying to act like our Santo. I wish my mother and grandmother and tía told me that they were the ones who bought me those dolls and books and polka dot dresses for me. I wish I knew that my grandfather was the annihilator of cookie-cut men. I’m not too fond of Santa because he reminds me of my assimilation and how I’ll fall short every day trying to resist it. I’m a red glass ornament sparkled with gold glitter, falling and breaking over and over again. I keep putting myself on that tree again because I find it beautiful. I’m staying up late and keeping close watch this time.
Monique Quintana is a Xicana from Fresno, CA, and the author of Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). Her work has appeared in Pank, Wildness, Lost Balloon, and other publications. You can read her book reviews and artist interviews at Luna Luna Magazine, where she is a contributing editor. She has been supported by Yaddo, the Sundress Academy of the Arts, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, and the Community of Writers. You can find her at moniquequintana.com.