You have a problem with Santa?

In case you haven’t heard, Santa is now a non-smoker. He did it without even using a patch. Actually, he didn’t do it; anti-smoking crusader Pamela McColl did it for him. She took it upon herself to edit the beloved 200-year-old poem, “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” removing the line (and accompanying illustration) about Santa drawing on a pipe and smoke encircling his face like a wreath.

McColl, a former smoker, is concerned that children will be encouraged to smoke by visualizing Santa with a pipe.

Who hasn’t read the “Night Before Christmas” to small children, only to watch in horror as they race from the room, grab crayons and begin adding cigarettes, pipes and cigars to their Christmas lists?

The first question about the decision to remove Santa’s pipe is this: Do we know for a fact that he actually inhaled? Secondly, if someone is going to modernize Santa, why stop with the tobacco?

Consider that Santa wraps himself in fur from head to foot. Why not dress Santa in a polyester red leisure suit? Of course, that’s if you can find one to fit. Santa is a man with a broad face and a “round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly.” The man is heavy. Rotund. Dare we say obese?

The narrative refers to Santa as “chubby and plump — a right jolly old elf.” Enough with the stereotypes about fat people being jolly. Let’s quit pretending. The man is depressed. That’s why he eats. He’s isolated and lonely, closes himself off from the rest of the world all but one day a year and stuffs himself with dairy and carbs. It also bears noting that Santa has a nose like a cherry. Can you say drinking problem? Probably throwing a few back before boarding the sleigh, which also means he is quite likely sleighing under the influence.

And let us consider Mrs. Claus. The woman is a virtual prisoner in her own home. How do we know he treats her well? Does she have cable? Cell phone? Reliable internet? Health care? Birth control? Paid vacation?

Furthermore, we cannot overlook the recurring animal abuse. Nine free-range reindeer strapped into harnesses. They work long hours and cross multiple time zones with no down time. Given the highly sensitive times in which we live, it is hard to believe Santa is someone we have encouraged children to invite into our homes.

Meet the new and improved Santa. Small children make him jumpy. He’s a little on the nervous side, but tobacco withdrawal does that to a body.

He’s considerably thinner. That 1200 calorie-a-day diet has paid off. He traded milk and cookies for carrot sticks and humus.

It didn’t hurt that he set the reindeer free in Yellowstone and walks his deliveries now. It takes longer, but if he starts when the store displays go up in September, he can be home by June.

Santa is a new man. A modern man.

Surprisingly, he still has a pipe. But not to worry; he only uses it for medical marijuana.

Thanksgiving is spelled c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r

They are among the first words we teach our children: Thank you.

When the lady behind the bakery counter at the grocery hands your little one a free cookie, you beam with pride when that small voice says, “T’ank you.”

We insist on children writing thank you notes, even if it means they are written under duress. That giant t, crooked h, sloping a, backward n, drooping k and s that runs off the page are a monumental achievement.

One small step for a 6-year-old, one giant leap for mankind.

No matter what your age, it is always nice, not to mention appropriate, to say thank you. Making eye contact when you say it doesn’t hurt either.

Saying thank you is a fundamental expression of humanity. It is the way we acknowledge our own indebtedness and another’s kindness. In that brief moment when we say thanks, we hit pause, slow the rapid-fire pace and enjoy the moment, the thoughtfulness, the consideration, the goodness.

And yet this delightful morsel called thankfulness, which imbues the spirit, brings satisfaction to the heart and contentment to the soul, seems to be an occasional occurrence rather than a perpetual frame of mind.

What holds us back from being continually thankful? So many things, really. Bad attitudes, lack of perspective, changing circumstances.

It is a far greater challenge to maintain thankfulness when circumstances press against us than when they align in our favor. Am I thankful only when things are going my way and the road is easy? Or do I have a perspective that allows me to count my blessings when uncertainty and hardship are my new best friends?

The Puritans, despite pummeling by untrue stereotypes, were a most remarkable group of people. The fortitude and resilience they displayed were heroic. They knew hardship both in the old world and in the new. The Pilgrim-Puritan legacy is not really that long wooden table loaded with wild game and playing field games with the Indians. Their true legacy is character. They sustained faithfulness and thankfulness under dire circumstances. Despite what should have been crushing deprivation, they persevered and remained clear-headed visionaries. Puritan John Geree wrote that the Puritan motto was “Vincit qui patitur.” That is Latin for “He who suffers conquers.”

The Puritans embraced all of life as a test of their faithfulness. (Many do the same today, but flip the equation and test God’s faithfulness, not man’s.) The Puritans were thankful for the material gifts of the harvest and shelter, but they also knew that what was in abundant supply one season could be gone the next. More importantly, they were thankful to, and for, the Giver of the gifts.

Thanksgiving is more than the fourth Thursday in November. It is more than the Macy’s Parade and a wonderful meal. Thanksgiving is a habit of the heart. It is an attitude, a benchmark of maturity and a measure of faithfulness.

The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His loving kindness is everlasting.” The Psalmist is right.

Hopefully, we can give thanks more than once a year.

‘Five second rule’ leaves bad taste

We’ve never abided by the “five second rule,” the rule that says if food hasn’t been on the floor longer than five seconds it’s safe to eat. We use a slide rule. We go from five to 10, 15 seconds, or even the day after.

If it’s chocolate, there is no time limit. Pick it up and have a look.

As for a recognizable bit of a cookie, sometimes it’s easier to pop it in your mouth than walk to the trash can. Oh, don’t tell me you’ve never done it. I’m smarter than that. Remember, I use a slide rule.

There is a direct correlation between willingness to eat something that has fallen on the floor and the desirability of the food. I’ve yet to see a kid scream, “Five second rule!” when cauliflower hits the floor. Right now, I could probably assemble an entire vegetable medley with bits and pieces the grandbabies have left under the kitchen table.

Despite the obvious – that food on the floor will pick up germs — researchers at San Diego State University, partnering with Clorox, conducted a study on the “five second rule” and found it to be bogus.

A study always implies government funds somewhere. Such a shame. I wish they would have called. I could have saved them a lot of time and money. Of course “the five second rule” is bogus. But it is a way to build immunity.

The most interesting finding from the study was that the dirtiest surface is not the bare floor or the carpet, but the countertop. That’s really disgusting, especially when you consider how much food we eat off our countertops.

In the interest of saving researchers’ time and preventing other unnecessary studies, let’s examine some other common myths.

“If you cross your eyes, they’ll stick that way.” Not true. Of course, if some research team wants to assemble thousands of 7-year-old children to test it, I’d love to watch.

“Scaring someone will stop the hiccups.” It will not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try.

“You can’t make taffy on a humid day.” Actually, that one does have some truth to it, although I’d feel better if a team at Harvard put it to the test.

“It’s OK to double dip in the chip dip.” Maybe at the frat house, but not at this house. You’re welcome to eat a chip off the floor, but don’t double dip with it.

“Throwing salt over your shoulder brings you good luck.” No it doesn’t; it just means you have to sweep the floor.

“The best way to tell if pasta is done is to throw it against the wall.” Not true. The best way to tell if pasta is done is to throw it on the floor and see if anybody eats it in five seconds.

I hope this has been of service to university research teams everywhere.

Send my honorary degree in care of my email.

Turkeys victims of fowl play

If we took a poll, I think we’d find most people are ambivalent about turkey.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “You know what sounds really good for dinner tonight? A big ol’ slab of turkey!”

When was the last time you ate at a nice restaurant, the server appeared to tell you about the specials, and half of them featured turkey? The server says, “Our chef can prepare that one of three ways: tough, dry or with leftovers.”

If the turkey is such a beloved centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinners, why do we spend so much time and effort disguising it?

We bury it under mashed potatoes, smother it with gravy and plaster it with cranberries. Is that really how you treat a bird you love?

This year the trend is to give the turkey a crustier, crunchier skin. You do this by boiling maple syrup down until it has nearly crystallized (give yourself two weeks) then baste the turkey during the final hour of cooking.

The end product, depending on your perspective, looks tantalizing and appealing, or like a bird with a bad case of psoriasis.

There are times when I wonder if our dedication to the turkey has been a mistake. A big one.

A lot of the turkeys I’ve cooked have been roughly the size of a Smart Car. And they’ve tasted like a Smart Car. Deep fry a Smart Car and it could beat a turkey in a taste off. A deep-fried Smart Car would beat one of those tofu turkeys, too.

It’s not like the early settlers were wild about turkey either. They didn’t visit the local butcher and find themselves torn between fabulous beef tenderloins, marvelous filet mignons or a turkey.

Turkey became the main dish at the first Thanksgiving by default. The pilgrims served turkey because turkeys are lousy runners and easy to catch.

Several years ago, I encountered the most memorable turkey in the history of fowl. One of our 20-something kids hosted a pitch-in Thanksgiving dinner at our house and the fellow who signed up to bring the turkey was French.

He’d never made a turkey before. He called his sister in France and she talked him through it. He entered the house with a large roasting pan covered with foil. It smelled exceptionally fragrant.

He used 100 cloves of garlic. He stuffed the turkey with couscous and more garlic. He hard boiled eggs, peeled them and dyed them neon orange, yellow, green, red and purple. Colored eggs were stuffed in and around the turkey alongside black and green olives, whole carrots, stalks of celery and halved onions.

This was a turkey with personality. If that turkey could have danced, it would have tap danced. If it could have sung, it would have belted out show tunes.

There was nothing subdued or quiet about that bird. It was like a turkey at Mardi Gras. It was what every turkey dreams of being.

I couldn’t help but think that turkeys everywhere would have been pleased.