There are hundreds of Christmas rituals that make no sense at all, but none are as bizarre as Santa Claus. Different countries and cultures dress him up in different ways, but the made-for-TV Santa is the pre-eminent Santa, and that's the one we all have to work from. He is a portly, jolly, white-haired man who might bring you gifts, but that's where the fun stops. This guy oversees an army of worker-elves on a freezing-cold campus in the middle of nowhere, and nobody wants to question his labor practices. He spends most of the year watching you, judging your every move, assigning you to one of two camps—"naughty" or "nice." Those who fall foul will end up with coal; good little boys and girls will get some sort of wrapped-up trinket. However you're judged, one thing is guaranteed—this geriatric man will break into your house in the dead of December and check to make sure you've left him some cookies.
It's a wonder that children get upset when they realize that the dude doesn't really exist. I remember bawling my eyes out when my mother admitted that it was all made-up—she'd just told me that the Tooth Fairy was a myth, and she was on a roll—but I should have been relieved. We lived in an apartment block, so he could only have come in through the window or the front door, leaving his reindeer chained up on the roof while he figured out how to crack the locks. Fuck that. I just wanted a Fulham goalkeeper shirt, not an elaborate home invasion.
This is probably all quite different if you have children, and Christmas is, after all, for the children. The anti-capitalist critic and young Santa lookalike Slavoj Žižek insists that nobody really believes in the illusion, but that everyone, young and old, plays along in order to avoid emotional injury. "We go through the ritual of Santa Claus, since our children (are supposed to) believe in it and we do not want to disappoint them," he writes. "They pretend to believe not to disappoint us, our belief in their naivety (and to get the presents, of course)." I'm sure Žižek meant it as a knock on the tradition, but I find the notion that we're all buying into a myth for the sake of community and family rather sweet.
Still—this guy? This eggnog-drunk chancer? Maybe there's someone else, someone we can all believe in, someone who represents the best in us. Maybe there's a self-made man who often works through the holidays, a person who encourages you to succeed, who doesn't peer into your life hoping that he can snub your for being "naughty."
The back half of 2016 was awful and terrifying, but Gucci Mane, who left prison that May, was a ray of icy sunshine. He hit his stride immediately after his release, dropping the Mike Will-produced "First Day Out Tha Feds," looking fitter, rapping with more focus and energy than he ever had in the past. Two solid full-lengths—Everybody Looking and Woptober—followed in the next few months, and he flew to the top of the Billboard charts with Rae Sremmurd on the gargantuan "Black Beatles." His Twitter feed became a hyper-optimistic, go-get-'em self-help text.
Then Christmas came around. The Return of East Atlanta Santa, the follow-up to 2014's East Atlanta Santa mixtape, wasn't a holiday record in the truest sense. Beyond a menacing "ho ho ho" on "Walk on Water" and a Santafied album cover, the only real Christmas cut was "St. Brick Intro," a two-minute trap remake of "Jingle Bells" produced by Zaytoven. I encourage you to listen to it again now, to revel in the glee with which Gucci raps: "I'm just trappin' through the snow / Sellin' nine half a bricks in four ways / Over the hills we go / Got an extendo and a AK." But really you should be watching the Eif Rivera-directed video, which is a Christmas miracle all of its own.
There's Gucci, rolling around his city in a luxury vehicle, clearly overdressed in his fur coat, pretending that the fake snow will offset the bright blue sky above him. He's on his way to take over from St. Nick, giving one young family an utterly inappropriate Christmas gift—a booze-fuelled party at midnight. Yes, he sneaks into this family's house, committing the same indiscretion that Santa himself commits every year—but look at the joy he brings. With a snap of his fingers, this family's home is transformed into a hub of goodwill, cash stacked up in the tree, presents everywhere, some festive pyjamas for dad.
Gucci Mane didn't judge this family. He didn't spy on them all year, stacking their good actions up against their mistakes, deciding whether or not to lump them with coal. He didn't demand cookies, nor did he try to sneak out of the room before anyone caught him. St. Brick doesn't have questionable labor policies or a cadre of reindeer ready to do his bidding—he just wants to chill.
I woke up this morning and made a chart, listing all of Santa's attributes and stacking them up against Guwop's. Here's what I ended up with:
- Santa Claus spies on you all year; Gucci Mane spends his time tweeting uplifting messages.
- Santa Claus judges your every action; Gucci Mane has better things to do.
- Santa Claus lives in the North Pole like a loser; Gucci Mane lives in Atlanta, where there's loads of cool stuff to do.
- Santa Claus probably underpays the elves; Gucci Mane shares the wealth.
- Santa Claus has never made a project with Future; Gucci Mane and Future have collaborated on both Free Bricks and Free Bricks 2.
Traditions are difficult to shake. These things don't happen overnight. But if we're going to encourage kids to write letters every Christmas, if we're going to ask them to believe in something, let's encourage them to put their faith in Gucci Mane. Free the elves.
Alex Robert Ross got gifts to give on Twitter.