The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 4, 2012

So be good for goodness sake

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Let me begin with a disclaimer: This opus contains spoilers concerning the jolly old elf himself, the big guy, the Christmas Kahuna — Santa Claus.

So if you don’t want to know, simply move on to the editorial cartoon.

OK. Ready? We have been lied to, for years.

Since 1934, to be exact. That’s when a song written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie first debuted on Eddie Cantor’s radio show.

The song? “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The tune, which has since been recorded by artists ranging from Tommy Dorsey to Bruce Springsteen, contains the lyric “He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”

OK, perhaps lied to is a bit strong. Perhaps misled would be a more accurate statement.

For generations, parents have been using Santa Claus as an admonishment to their offspring during the Christmas season — be good, or else.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

That sounds like the government, for crying out loud. And it’s enough to scar children for life. It’s a wonder that kind of thinking didn’t create a large group of doomsday preppers who hoard guns and food in anticipation of some coming disaster. Oh, a TV reality show? Well, I rest my case.

At any rate, the implication was clear: bad children would not receive any presents, or at best would be given a lump of coal or socks, while good little kiddies would be showered with lovely gifts.

Well, now we know that’s not true, and we have no less an authority than Walmart to thank for the knowledge.

A national survey conducted by the mega-retailer found 80 percent of parents saying their children would still receive the same number of gifts, regardless of whether they were bad or good.

Actually, I have had my suspicions for years, since I usually got whatever was on my Christmas list (save for the pony and the working Sherman Tank), despite the fact I was an all-around reprobate on my best days.

But now we know it is true, because Walmart told us so.

Surprisingly, most kids haven’t caught on, apparently, because the survey says 62 percent still believe that they will get more stuff if they were good than if they aren’t.

A relatively recent addition to this phenomenon is the Elf on the Shelf. It has been around since 2005 when a children’s book of the same name was published.

Each book comes with an elf, who is assigned to spy on the family each day and fly back to the North Pole each night to report on the goodness or badness that took place each day. When the family awakes the next morning, the elf is back, but has found a different hiding place from which to watch the family’s daily activities. Children are warned not to touch the elf, or it might lose its magic.

Well that was all well and good, until a correspondent for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” spilled the beans (another spoiler alert), saying it was actually parents who moved the elf each night, and showed the elf actually being moved.

Viewers were outraged, and the correspondent, Lara Spencer, was forced to air a clarification, saying the elf in question had not yet been named, which is part of the tradition, and thus had not acquired his magical powers.

GMA’s elf now has a name, Gary, and so it is hands-off.

Personally, I’m glad they didn’t have the whole Elf on the Shelf thing when I was young. I was nervous enough as a kid.

Actually, one lyric of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” rings true, no matter what Walmart says: “So be good for goodness sake.”

There’s much to be said for being good for its own sake. It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside, for one thing (either that, or it’s gas). And in one Belgian city, it might help keep you on the right side of the law.

Brussels has launched a campaign to find out who’s naughty and nice, and to punish bad behavior. Naughty folks, those who are too loud, who urinate in public, or who insult others with homophobic, racist or sexist comments, are subject to a 250 Euro fine (about $320 in real money).

So you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why, Brussels’ police are lurking around.

And this from a city where one of the top tourist attractions is a fountain featuring a statue of a young boy urinating.

My advice this holiday season? Be good, no matter what Walmart says. After all, you can never be too careful.

Unless, of course, you especially need socks.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at