In the Village: What to do about the FOG

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

We're heading into the Christmas season, so all around us are images of that red-suited Figure of Giving (FOG), who shall remain nameless here in order not to wreck everything for those who still thinks he sneaks around putting goodies in HUH (Hung-Up Hosiery) or UAT (Under A Tree).

For many LDS families, there isn't even a question about FOG. Their kids grow up believing in his Christmas Eve wanderings, and happily pass along the same sense of wonder and magic to their children.

I am emphatically in that group. But I understand those who have misgivings.

I have one friend who was terrified by the actors playing FOG in department stores and on street corners. He had no desire to bring that "magic" into his home.

But he and his wife make sure their kids are never a source of disillusionment to others. They agree that what they have decided for their home is not a decision they have a right to impose on others.

Some parents decline to invite FOG into their home because Latter-day Saints should not be in the disillusionment business. And the day of disillusionment about the FOG will come, however long children put off telling their parents the truth about the whole thing.

When children discover that the items left in HUH or UAT, the treats that were eaten, and the notes left for children to discover were really from Mom and Dad, what if they become suspicious of other tales from the same source?

Tales like the Resurrection, the Atonement, miracles, creation, visions and revelations may, these parents fear, become lost in the FOG.

My wife and I worry about that, too, and so did our parents. All have been careful to draw a bright, clear line between the fun of FOG and the serious matters of the kingdom of God.

My parents told us, when we were very young, the tale of the first Christmas when their firstborn was of an age to know about the FOG.

Surrounded by presents, wrapping paper, boxes and gift cards, my sister looked at my parents and said, "Daddy, Mommy, what did you give me?"

The problem wasn't ingratitude. She was grateful — to the FOG.

My parents decided then and there that the FOG would no longer play such a prominent role at Christmas. He filled the HUH, but left only one item per child UAT.

His presents were unsigned and unwrapped. There was only a tag on each present with the child's name neatly lettered in my sign-painter father's impeccable (and impersonal) lettering.

All the rest of the presents came from our parents and each other.

No name-drawing at our house: Each one of us six children was responsible for buying or making a gift for each of the others, and for our parents as well.

Our parents increased our allowance in the Christmas season by giving us a one-time Christmas-money bonus. That money was all we'd have to pay for gifts for every other family member.

Seven gifts from each person, for each person. At a bare minimum, that would be 49 gifts under the tree.

And between grandparents, aunts and uncles, and multiple gifts from our parents, who found more than one perfect gift for each child every year, you can imagine that our floor was almost carpeted with gifts on Christmas morning.

But in all those presents, there was only one for each child from FOG. And we knew, from our own careful budgeting and shopping, just what the gifts from real people had cost them in money, time and thought.

Learning the truth about FOG never gave us any anxiety that Christmas would be diminished.

On the contrary, the truth only increased the fun, and we began to look for tiny gifts to drop into our parents' HUH, so that they would be surprised by anonymous gifts that neither of them had bought for the other.

My older sister led the way in that, but we were eager to follow.

I don't mean to say that my parents' solution would be right for anyone else. My wife and I have modified even those limited traditions, and have added a few we learned from other sources.

In our house there has never been any nonsense about sooty fuel being placed in the HUH for misbehaving children.

With no punishments associated with Christmas, Christmas is never seen as a kind of judgment day.

It's a day of celebration, from the religious observances of Christmas Eve, including re-enactments (a requirement in our theatrical home!), to the one-at-a-time opening of gifts on Christmas morning, so that everybody's clever and thoughtful gifts to others could be seen and appreciated.

The competition on Christmas was never about who got the most or the best gifts. It was about who had come up with the most thoughtful, appropriate gifts on a limited budget.

We wondered what would come to us, from the FOG and others, but we were really on pins and needles to see what our loved ones would think of the gifts we had come up with for them.

In short, we were trained to be givers ourselves, ready to step into the role of FOG at a moment's notice, as soon as we found out that the position was vacant.

So, while I can't disagree with those who prefer to have FOG-free Christmas celebrations, I also see no harm and much joy and goodness in keeping FOG in a limited role in the celebration of the Savior's birth.

Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. A longer version of this column can be found at MormonTimes.com. Leave feedback for Card at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.

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