When In Doubt, Throw Hard Candy (aka, The Santa From Hell story)

By Toni McGee Causey

When the kids were little -- I think Jake was three and Luke was seven -- Christmas felt like it was going to be slim. Make that downright anorexic. So I was looking for a way to bring a little fun into the season, something that wouldn't cost much.
I had a brilliant idea. (I should come with a warning label: If brilliant idea occurs, step way-the-hell back for your own safety.)

Anyway. The idea was to have someone play Santa at our house for a pre-Christmas visit. We'd invite all the neighbor kids and their parents and each family would bring a gift for their child ahead of time. I'd hide the gifts away and squirrel them to our Santa, who would come in the house with lots of Ho Ho Hos and joy and jovial warmth and after regaling the kids with whatever it is Santas regale kids with, he'd give out the presents. There would be hot chocolate and apple cider, a beautifully lit Christmas tree in the background. Maybe even singing, if the kids wanted to sing. We woud be so sappy, Hallmark would sue. Or throw up, but whatever, it was going to be great.

When I write it out like that, it sounds like a very nice day, doesn't it? It really does seem normal and sane and I should have known that in my world, "normal" and "sane" do not apply.

It progressed innocently enough... I invited all of the neighbors, who loved the idea, especially since it was a fairly tight season for everyone. The "gifts" to the kids were held to a very low budget, so everything was fair and equal. There was a tree, decorations, lights, apple cider and hot chocolate, brownies, cookies, you name it for a sugar fix, someone was going to bring it. All I needed was a Santa.

Finding someone with a Santa suit wasn't quite as easy as I had expected; most of the people who have them are booked for all of December, and it was two weeks before Christmas and looking a little bleak. And forget getting one of those guys for free. Like I was crazy for thinking this was the season of giving or something. Of course, the kids already knew that Santa was going to come to our house for our party, the specific date was set, so there was no going back at that point. (Could you look a bunch of 3 to 7 year olds in the face and tell them Santa wasn't showing up? If so, here's your application to Mercenaries-R-Us and Osama's on line two.) So. Had to find a Santa. Was getting a little scared as the day approached and there was no Santa to be had.

Then a member of our family, who we still speak to even after this event, suggested a certain older friend-of-the-family. I had met this FotF several times, and he's a little... erm... warped. He is very very sweet, but also sort of odd, disjointed, but in a quasi-live-in-a-fog sort of way. Jovial, though, he had down pat. He had the rotund belly, the jolly round cheeks, the perfect Santa nose. The thing that worried me was that he was incredibly bashful. And when he did speak, he was extremely quiet. I couldn't remember him putting together two whole sentences in a row, unless you call smiling and nodding a lot "sentences," but at this point, I figured, what could it hurt?

Now, in retrospect, I understand why the heroine always goes down into the dark basement when she's heard a noise, there's a serial killer known to be in her neighborhood, someone who'd been stalking her and had keys made to her house, and yet she goes anyway, armed with only a pony-tail clasp and Malibu Barbie lipstick. She was thinking what could it hurt?

Our house was tiny, so the plan was for me to hide the bag of toys at our back door for Santa to grab, then he'd go around and come in the front door, where everyone was gathered in the living / dining room area. Tree lit? Check. Apple cider? Check. Hot chocolate? Check. Sugar high toddlers on the ceiling? Check. So many people packed in there, we were going to need pregnancy tests soon? Check.

But no Santa.

An hour goes by. The kids get higher and rowdier and the adults get fidgety and gossipy and God only knows how many families we managed to break up on that one night. Meanwhile, Jake (three) wandered off to the kitchen. I could see him (very very tiny house) from the dining room, when we heard a noise outside. A distinctive 'HO HO HO" noise. At last.

Everyone turned expectantly toward the front door. I don't want Jake to miss this, so I run into the kitchen to scoop him up, when suddenly, the back door BURST open with Jake not a foot away from it, and in bound Santa, HO HO HOing at the TOP OF HIS LUNGS, and RUNNING, people. RUNNING. There was NO ROOM TO RUN so Jake turned away from this screaming giant red monster and beelined it back to the living room, which meant he went OVER me, over a few other people standing in the way and did Santa stop?

Hah. Silly me.

Santa ran smack over me, over a few other innocent bystanders, and to top it off, the whole running time? He was throwring candy. Hard candy. And I don't mean "lightly tossing it to the cute little four-year-old standing there with her jaw open in abject fear...." No. I mean hurling it, 95mph over the plate there, Babe, pinging parents, knocking out a couple of random elementary kids and everyone started dodging and diving for cover and did he STOP? No. No he did not. He kept whizzing that candy and HO HO HOing and running (now in circles in the living room) and kids were screaming, Jake was crying, Luke was hiding, I was still on the floor in total shock, and when he did stop, finally (I think Carl tripped him), he started with the presents. Not a single jolly word did this man speak. He pulled out presents, asked the kid's name, and the really smart kids hid behind their parents, because he HURLED the gifts at their heads. Hurled. I'm not kidding you.

By this point, there was hot chocolate and apple cider everywhere, there were a couple of wet spots on the sofa I didn't want to identify, most of the kids were wailing and trying to climb their nearest parent and on top of everything else, Santa had managed to drop one of the kid's presents outside... though I had the presence of mind to realize what had happened and I had a stand-by gift ready (in case one of the parents forgot) and so that was solved. When he finished slinging the last present, did he SIT DOWN and calmly tell lovely stories to the kids to keep them from growing up to be SERIAL KILLERS?

No. No he did not.

He started up again with the running and HO HO HOing and throwing even MORE CANDY. You'd think the man was on a float and we were thirty feet away, and when he finally finished careening over a couple of kids who hadn't been trampled on the first go-round, he sprinted to the back door and ran out into the night.

The back door slammed and the whole house hushed for a moment in stunned silence. Parents looked at me like I should be locked up, and those were the nice polite expressions, comparitively speaking. Then the shrieking began, and the confusion (toys had been dropped and stomped on by Santa on his way out) and there was just no way to rescue it. I've never seen a bunch of people leave a party faster in my life.

But I tell you what. Whenever someone would say to those kids, even years later, that they "better be good because Santa was watching"... man, they'd straighten right the hell up. And I don't think a single one of them touched hard candy for years.

What's your craziest holiday memory?

Toni McGee Causey
The Bobbie Faye trilogy (out now)



  1. OMG Those poor kids must have had nightmares for years! What a story. I'm sure it was scary for the kiddies at the time - but I can't help but laugh at the way you told it! I can't recall anything so out there as that. Makes all of my crazy Italian family holiday fights seem tame by comparison. Thanks for sharing such a vivid memory. ;)

  2. 'So many people packed in there, we were going to need pregnancy tests soon? Check.' - LOL!

    This whole story is hilarious, Toni, as only the most hideous events can be in retrospect. My mom was once almost trampled by shoppers racing for the impossible-to-get Cabbage Patch Kids, back in the day. She was a department manager at a big retail store, and they got a call from the neighboring location which opened a half hour before, warning them to take emergency action because of what had already happened to them when the doors opened. Still, Mom had to stand and face the crazed mob who stormed towards her with intent to crush. Good times!

  3. Toni, this is exactly the reason I love your books. You had me laughing from beginning to end!


  4. Joanna, you're right -- for years, they would flinch at the idea of going to see "Santa" somewhere, but as adults, they love the story. I guess it didn't warp them too badly!

    Julia -- yikes! That would have been scary. And that's exactly why I avoid the heaviest shopping days, in spite of the great prices. The idea of fighting those crowds scares the hell out of me. ;)

    Kristine, thank you! ;)

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  6. Have I told you lately how much I love you! LOL. I do you know.......You have the best stories. Ever think about writing a book? (grin)

  7. Lori, LOL. I just might do that someday. ;)

  8. Okay, Toni, when it comes to a Christmas horror story, you win! When it comes to Ronald McDonald, however, step back! There are regularly scheduled meet and greets for the kiddies to meet the legendary clown. When my Juli was only two, her daddy worked at our local McD's so we planned to get there early. Now we know how independent toddlers can be about choosing their attire for an event and that particular day, nothing, but NOTHING would do but Juli's Disney Beauty and the Beast slippers with Belle on them. In desperation I finally said she should change to her pretty colorful pink and purple mary jane style suede shoes because Ronald would probably like her belle slippers so much he'd ask for them. Yes, you clearly can see where this fiasco is heading, can't you? Juli perched watching for Ronald on one bench of the booth closest to the entrance doors. I sat on the outside of the other one next to my mother, Juli's beloved grandma. Ronald came in with his "handler" and began to greet the children. He turned to Juli, standing by my side, all at once a little shy, and attempts to draw her out a little. He decides to relate based on her attire. He looks down and says, "You have really pretty shoes on..." At this point, Juli simultaneously burst into tears, and leapt over me to my mother is sheer panic. Poor Ronald stands there befuddled. Okay, I must confess, when I look back, I have laughed so hard I've cried. Seriously, who could have predicted that the one thing he would bring up to talk to a child would be her footwear? I should have known, because, by then, the "Bobbie Faye"ness of my life had already made itself evident! Merry Christmas from another evil Mommy!

  9. OMG. I feel so bad for the kids but tears are coming down cause I can't stop laughing. Only you Toni... :)

  10. Bwahahahahaha!! LOVE it Toni! I've been laughing from start to finish too.

    The only horror story I have is when my younger one was born, I decided to pump breast milk for him. We went over to my in-laws' house, where my father in Law decided to bring his 95 year old mother to stay for the holidays. After getting TJ down for a nap, I went into the side room to pump. Not five minutes into it, my grandmother in law wanders in, stops and stares at me, leaving the door wide open. Yeah...

    I'm sitting there, quietly trying to find a blanket to cover up with, without insulting her, when she started asking questions about the pump and what it was doing. If that wasn't bad enough, once I answered her questions, she decided that she knew exactly how it should work (because, ya know, she'd seen someone working on a farm once waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day). She started trying to show me how to actually hold the cones to my breasts to get the most efficient seal, among other things.

    My husband came down the hall moments later. I don't know what he was looking for, but the image of his grandmother manhandling his wife's breasts is probably not it.

  11. TOMA -- oh, that is hysterical. Your poor daughter--but still, hysterical. Who'd a thunk? ;)

    Bea -- ;)

    Becca...oh. my. god. If my husband's grandmother had been trying to show me how to pump breast milk... I'd have died right there on the spot. Oh, geez, I am dying for you right now!

  12. OMG, I am red in the face and I almost peed my pants, I am laughing so hard. You are so funny Toni, you should be a writer or something. LOL

    If the writing thing doesn't work out you could be a party planner. :)

  13. I started laughing from the first paragraph and got so loud, I thought I was going to wake the kids.

    Causey, your friggin rock!

    Mmmmm, crazy holiday memories? Mine consist of either a drunk relative playing ball with one of the infants, or an off-the-rocker ex-wife. None of which, I don't *think*, I'm suppose to laugh at.


  14. I'm still laughing too hard to think of one.

  15. OMG that's hilarious - the perfect Santa! I'm sending this to Stephen...


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