Coming into Oregon on Christmas Eve 2015, Santa immediately noticed a change in the atmosphere.
This year, there was a different kind of smoke coming up from the houses.
And the visions weren’t of sugar plums.
Santa, who for obvious reasons keeps a close eye on market variations – he uses Frosted Windows software – had already picked up on a new development in the Oregon gift wishes. He’d noticed he’d been getting a lot of requests – and these letters to Santa were not in crayon, but laser jet-printed – for products like Sinsemilla Santa and Polar Pow.
These were not easy wishes for Santa to grant, since the North Pole is not a prime growing area – we’re not talking Josephine County here – but after 2000 years, Santa has, so to speak, connections.
And it did make it a little easier for him to fill the stockings for state and local government, whose letters to Santa had all requested, as they did every year, more revenue. The changed legal situation also brought local officials another Christmas gift, since there were a lot of lists they no longer had to make, let alone check them twice – once for sentencing, once for parole.
It did, of course, make it a little complicated for Santa to keep up his own list of who was naughty and nice, but then the standards for that changed every year; Santa had a standing committee of elves constantly readjusting the ground rules. By the standards of 1897, when The New York Sun assured Virginia that there really was a Santa Claus – the editorial still appeared every year in the Claus corporate mission statement – virtually everybody in the world in 2015 would receive lumps of coal.
(Not that Santa still gave out lumps of coal, what with global warming. Not too many Christmases from now, Santa’s North Pole headquarters was projected to become an underwater workshop, which was a problem since reindeer couldn’t swim. He was currently exploring replacing them with polar bears, although so far the bears had not responded well to being reined to the sleigh.)
Still, actually flying into the newly changed Pacific Northwest airshed was a new experience for Santa. He appeared to be feeling especially jolly. His deep “Ho-ho-ho” seemed to be turning into a high-pitched giggle. He wondered whether he had ever really looked at the sky before, and he was feeling a vague relief that there were no laws defining impaired driving standards for operators of flying sleighs.
Fortunately, the reindeer knew the way, but flying in and out of the smoke, they seemed to be showing some effects themselves. Dasher was still dashing, but it looked like Dancer was now actually dancing – he seemed to be performing a kind of Reindeer Robot – and Santa feared that Blitzen was blitzed. Seeking to stabilize the squad, somewhere over Eugene Santa put his arm around Rudolph and whispered, “I love you, man.”
Santa had been aware – Santa was aware of everything, including when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake, and what medications you’re taking to try to change the situation – that Oregon had legalized medical marijuana years before. But since Santa was immortal, he’d never had any medical problems – although he was interested in reports that marijuana could help with a back strained from carrying sacks full of toys, or an upset stomach that shook like a bowlful of jelly.
And after all, anyone looking at the illustrations could see that he’d always had his pipe.
It was, of course, a different world. But you don’t go from being St. Nicholas of Smyrna, a small town in 4th century Asia Minor without even a decent mall, to becoming the CEO of an international Arctic-based gift conglomerate with countless merchandising partnerships without learning some things about change and flexibility. Santa remembered, for example, the strains of doing the job during Prohibition, when a lot of people seemed to think that a flying sleigh coming over the Canadian border was a rare business opportunity. Recently, certain organizations had contacted him about installing surveillance cameras.
Looking through the smoke rising over Oregon, not all of it coming from chimneys, Santa thought about all the times he’d realized – in Smyrna, at the North Pole, in so many department stores – that people had constantly changing definitions of comfort and joy.
And throughout the state of Oregon on Christmas morning 2015, good little boys and girls awoke to what seemed definitive evidence of Santa’s visit:
All the cookies left out had been thoroughly munched.
NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 12/23/15.