It was more than just gifts. It was stockings. Nobody could say who started it, but after a while it seemed that the giving of every gift was accompanied by a stocking. Rolled up, hidden inside something else, but always a stocking. Nobody hung the stocking up in hopes of getting it filled, of course. It was the other way around--the stockings were being given as part of the gift.
And the recipient of the stocking found a way to wear it, whether it fit or not. Dangling from a sleeve. On a foot, but not matched with the other sock. Inside a flash suit. Sticking out of a pocket. Just for a day, the sock was worn, and then it was given back. It was the stocking more than the words now that said, This is from Santa Claus.
The stockings were needed, because what were the gifts? A few were poems, written on paper. Some of them were food scraps. As the days passed, however, more and more of the gifts took the form of favors. Tutoring. Extra practice time in the Battle Room. A bed that was already made when somebody came back from the showers. Showing somebody how to get to a hidden level in one of the video games.
Even when it wasn't a tangible gift, there was the stocking to make it real.
Father was right, thought Zeck. The parents of these children put the lie of Santa in their hearts, and now it bears fruits. Liars, all of them, giving gifts as homage to the Father of Lies. Zeck could hear his father's voice in his memory: "He will answer their prayers with the ashes of sin in their mouths, with the poison of atheism and unbelief in the plasma of their blood." These children were not believers--not in Christ, and not in Santa Claus. They knew they served a lie. If only they could see that when you do charity in the name of Satan it turns to sin. The devil cannot do good.
Zeck tried to go see Colonel Graff, but he was stopped by a Marine in the corridor. "Do you have an appointment with the commandant of Battle School?"
"No, sir," said Zeck.
"Then whatever you have to say, say it to your counselor. Or one of the teachers."
The teachers were no help. Few of them would talk to him anymore. They'd say, "Is this about algebra? No? Then tell it to somebody else, Zeck." The words of Christ had long since worn out their welcome in this place.
The counselor did listen--or at least sat in a room with him while he talked. But it came to nothing.
"So what you're telling me is that the other students are being kind to each other, and you want it stopped."
"They're doing it in the name of Santa Claus."
"What, exactly, has anyone done to you--in the name of Santa Claus?"
"Nothing to me, personally, but--"
"So you're complaining because they're being kind to other people and not to you?"
"Because it's in the name of--"
"Santa Claus, I see. Do you believe in Santa Claus, Zeck?"
"What do you mean?"
"Believe in Santa Claus. Do you think there's really a jolly fat guy in a red suit who brings gifts?"
"So Santa Claus isn't part of your religion."
"That's exactly my point. It's part of their religion."
"I've asked. They say it isn't religion at all. That Santa Claus is merely a cultural figure shared by many of the cultures of Earth."
"It's part of Christmas," insisted Zeck.
"And you don't believe in Christmas."
"Not the way most people celebrate it, no."
"What do you believe in?"
"I believe Jesus Christ was born, probably not in December at all anyway, and he grew up to be the Savior of the world."
"No Santa Claus."