Who needs Santa? Beleaguered parents, that's who.

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 9:39 PM

I don't have the stamina for Santa. It takes way too much work to perpetuate the ever-evolving, increasingly elaborate myth of a fat man with unreasonable superpowers.

Whether it's maintaining the David Copperfield-size illusions to keep the magic alive for kids or fulfilling the unfortunate Secret Santa draw of the creepy guy in the billing department, playing Saint Nick to the hilt is exhausting.

And it's not like technology has made this any easier.

We've had NORAD tracking Santa since 1958. Even before that, large-scale operations were in place to respond to the mountains of letters that children send to Santa.

And many of us remember our local TV weatherman, in his goldenrod suit and flaccid Santa hat, giving the weather report for Santa's ride on Christmas Eve.

Today, you can get e-mails from Santa or even get him to send your kids a text. If that's not enough, they can log into their Twitter account and get Santa's tweets.

It used to be that a trip to the shopping mall Santa and the portrait of an often screaming child on his lap was enough evidence to prove Santa's existence. (Take a look at some of the pictures of scared Santa kids online, both disturbing and hilarious).

One of the best new tools on the market, amid many highlighted recently in a Wall Street Journal piece about Santa iPhone apps, comes from a guy in Leesburg, who runs a Web site called Capture the Magic.

For $9.95, he will present your children with photographic evidence of Santa lurking in your own home. You upload a snap of your living room, roof or whatever. He'll digitally add Santa to the scene, choosing from one of at least 150 poses he shot of a Santa model (that had to be the best gig in town - $1,500 and no screaming kids).

There are the elaborate hiding of gifts, the special wrapping paper that you have to hide and make certain it doesn't make a reappearance covering Uncle Stan's Slanket and, of course, the cookies you must dispense with before dawn.

How many times has a parent who has been up all night wrapping, constructing and decorating scream "THE COOKIES!" at a spouse who forgot to take a bite and leave a mess of crumbs before the kids came downstairs.

My moment of stupid Santics was much more public last year. A couple walking along our sidewalk saw me frantically chewing and spitting carrots out all over our porch and steps at 8 a.m., when I realized I'd forgotten the blasted "reindeer ate the carrots and left a mess" ruse I short-sightedly concocted a couple of years ago.

There are legions of Web sites with tips on how to keep kids believing. One is written by a mom who swears her daughter still believed when she was in high school.

This herculean extravaganza is all about creating a gleaming world of wonder and delight for the children, right? Or is it?

Saint Nicholas was, after all, a real person, a bishop known for giving gifts to the poor and the hopeless and for protecting the weak and powerless. But we've stripped the human capacity for such selflessness by morphing him into a supernatural, sleigh-riding, ruddy-nosed life of the party. Why?

Let's be honest. For a short time every year, Santa is the ultimate disciplinary device. Sometime around November, right about the time the last of the Halloween candy is gone, the threats, the cajoling and the bribery begin, all in the name of Santa.

You think the Christmas creep is about commercialism and marketing? Nope. It's parents anxious to start singing about a stalker who watches every move a kid makes.

In my home, our skylights are Santa windows, we have Santa's phone number on speed dial, the elf sits on the shelf and that naughty/nice list is constantly being revised.

No wonder some parents tear themselves to shreds trying to keep their kids believing.

Think that's bad parenting?

Let's return to the days of Krampus, the demon who came to many European homes around the time of the feast of Saint Nicholas in the beginning of December. He was a cloven monster with horns who was said to snatch bad children and snack on their entrails.

Folks sent Krampus greeting cards, depicting rosy-cheeked, Victorian children screaming as they were dragged to hell by the demon. It was almost as scary as some of the matching-sweater family greetings we received this year.

I was definitely disturbed by this European tradition, which was a fixture in my childhood.

No, I swear I won't threaten my children with this demon, tempting as it may be some nights. But come January, after the carrot and stick that is Santa is put away with the ornaments, we are again at a loss for a disciplinary crutch. Valentine's Day holds no hope, and the Easter Bunny simply doesn't have the gravitas to pull it off.

Maybe Santa ought to start delivering gifts every three months, becoming a year-round behavioral motivator.

Oh, well, it's Christmas Eve. We better use these last few hours wisely.

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