Recently, I’ve been having a hard time convincing my seven-year-old daughter Santa exists. She just saw High School Musical 2 at a sleepover “pajama party” last weekend and usually, if you’re old enough to appreciate the works of Zak Efron, chances are you’re not buying the Santa Claus myth anymore. And honestly, how could she? Given what she sees in Paris nowadays, it’s getting harder and harder to convince not only her but my three-year-old son as well. Hell, I’m even starting to think he doesn’t exist.

It’s not that Santa’s not present in Paris. He is. He’s just not in the same places and settings I’m used to seeing him. He’s never on a sleigh being towed around town or in a big chair at a department store asking kids what they want for Christmas. Instead, he’s mostly hanging from a rope outside a window, as he if he’s climbing the side of the building, looking to rob the place.

“What’s Santa Claus doing up there?” my daughter asked the other day as we walked home from school, spotting another hanging Santa. “Isn’t he supposed to pass through the chimney?”

“He does honey,” I replied, scrambling for a response. “But since the building is, ah, being cleaned for asbestos, he’s going through the window instead. In any case, it’s a one-off.”

But it’s not a one-off. In fact, they’re quite common, these hanging Santas. They have the same outfit, the same beard, the same build as your average Santa, only they hang from a rope in France. At times, I’ll spot five or six of them all repelling together, all on the same line, all resembling more a scene out of Toy Story or a Blackwater security team. And that’s the sexy version. If there’s wind and rain, a hanging Santa can often get tangled up and turned upside down, looking less like Santa and more like Mussolini being hanged over a town square.

But since there’s so many of them, I guess there’s a tradition. A tradition that requires Frenchmen I guess everywhere once a year to venture into their basements to “get the hanging Santa, honey.” Because unlike Christmas trees, hanging Santas can be stowed away, where they eventually become like old tree ornaments or Christmas socks, worn down and beaten up. And you see them too, the depressing hanging Santas, tattered and torn, tiredly climbing up that rope again, looking more like an old man who simply forgot his keys.

I’ve found you can buy a hanging Santa almost anywhere. No need to go to the toy store Jouet Club. You can get them in your local hardware store even. And often they’re just hanging like back-to-school backpacks on their own little ropes, and usually next to the cash register as if the store wants to make a deal, “I tell you what. You buy the extension cord and the lights, I’ll throw in the hanging Santa.”

As an American, it’s hard to celebrate Christmas when there’s less I can grasp onto from my childhood. There’s no fake deers or plastic Santa sleighs because there are no front yards. There are no wreaths hanging on home front doors because that’s a common area. And there are no really tall Christmas trees because there’s just not enough ceiling height in most apartments. So what do you get instead? Hanging Santa – hanging out of government buildings, banks, department stores, and yes even subway stops.

Hanging Santas, mind you, should not be confused with another group, the musical moving Santas; you know the ones you spot in boulangeries or pharmacies gyrating their hips in a James Brown way, oftentimes holding a saxophone which, if you’re lucky, doesn’t play. From behind, the gyrating Santas, the big ones, at least, look like real people who’ve reached an accord with the boulangerie to play for customers in return for some warmth, some bread, and some extra cash. They’re often so life-like, I actually got in line behind one thinking he was there for the chouquettes.

I find it ironic that in Paris, you have all these fake Santas doing physically active things, blowing sax, dancing, scaling buildings, whereas in the US, we have living Santas who are fairly sedentary. Our Santas stand on corners asking for donations to the Salvation Army or pose for pictures with staff at company parties. Santa, in the US, has always been a good chance for unemployed people or actors, to make some extra money doing fairly nothing. Whereas here, Santa’s unemployed.

Maybe it’s because the Santa themes of red mixed with a bearded Karl Marx character is just too close to communism, which doesn’t really conform to today’s modern Christmas of consumerism at all cost. Or maybe it’s because French kids and their Cartesian backgrounds are a little more discerning than American kids are, able to spot a dad or an uncle behind that beard much easier, because, they’ve deduced, there’s a hole in the story. Best to have him up high, out of sight almost, hanging in effigy.

In fact, Parisian kids have a lot in common with my friends who grew up in New York, a town where Santa’s less believable, simply because there’s 30-floor apartment buildings, no chimneys, and no parking space for reindeer. “We’re also Jewish John.” That too.

Each year I feel more and more like the crazy father refusing to let his children grow up, eagerly begging them to write letters to Santa Claus, drilling them on what food to leave the reindeer, training them on how to properly decorate the tree and light the garden “or else he won’t come!” I even bought one of those modern fireplaces, the ones that burn alcohol instead of wood and, as a result, don’t need a chimney- just to create the illusion that Santa Claus could actually access the apartment if he needed to. If not, I fear, they’ll assume Santa’s climbing the side of our building again with his four dummies (who will finish the job I guess, should he fall) or whoring himself playing Barrie White next to the hemorrhoid relief shelf.

Frank Capra, it’s not. Yet again, I won’t have to worry about that fateful day when I’ll have to tell my kids Santa doesn’t exist. I think it’s pretty obvious.

click here to see the published version in Slate (in French)