Christmas can be a very special and truly magical time, particularly for children. I have vivid memories when I was 7 of making mince pies for Father Christmas (along with my brother and cousin who lived with us) and leaving them at the end of the beds along with carrots and water for his reindeer. We were ridiculously excited when we woke up and saw they were all gone and been replaced with a letter from the man himself thanking us. In their place were costumes of a cowboy, native american indian and nurse. I was the gunslinging cowboy and along with my brother we formed an unlikely truce and spent Christmas Day terrorising my poor 5 year old cousin the nurse.
Growing up as part of a single parent family money was sparse and so were our Christmas stockings. It didn’t matter though, we were overjoyed to have tangerines, apples, a pencil and rubber to open. To be fair, we did also receive one special present each year. In order of awesomeness mine were the Evel Knievel Jumpset, Steve Austin Six Million Dollar Man action figure and the Action Man Scuba figure. It was never about what we received, it was the whole idea of waiting for Father Christmas to come down the chimney and bring us our own individual presents. The fact that we never had a chimney didn’t come into conversation. As children we believed in the magic and that was that. Today with my ever savvy girls who know we don’t have a chimney, I’ve had to explain that Father Christmas has a special key that can open all doors. Not only that, he has a special code that can turn off all house alarm systems and reactivate them when he leaves.
Christmas was amazing as a child but sadly that all came to a grinding halt when I was 9. I asked my mum if she could post my letter to Father Christmas and she simply said, “We don’t celebrate Christmas Paul, we’re Jewish.” That was that and from then on it was strictly Chanukah pressies only. Special present first night, followed by the tangerine, rubber, pencil etc but spead out over the next 7 nights. Her rationale was that it was fine when we were young children but as we were older we were to embrace Judiasm more fully. I was 9 and my brother and cousin were 7, we were still young children! Fortunately I was only traumatised by this (sundae, evenld a grudge since) for 23 years. All’s fine now and we are talking again. It’s now actually come full circle as my parents now get to enjoy our Christmas tree every year!
Christmas in the Banana Head house is very special. J and K work on their Christmas lists for weeks, fine tuning them and finally typing them up, making them into works of art complete with resplendant multicoloured writing and pictures of everything Christmassy. It’s a little different to the lists we wrote when we were young. The girl’s lists come complete with website links so Father Christmas can show the elves exactly how to make them. If it’s a bit too complicated, he can always buy them direct from Argos and Amazon. K came to that conclusion on her own bless her. They also work out how much it will all cost trying not to be too extravagant and then ask if they think Father Christmas will give that much. Lovely that they have a sense of value for money or sad that consumerism is ingrained in them and it’s not just about the magic? Not sure really, a bit of both maybe. There’s also the unquestioned fact that every Father Christmas they see is the real deal; at nursery, Willows Farm, McDonalds eating an ice cream sundae, even the one sitting on the tube, swigging a can of Tenants Extra singing incomprehensible songs. That last one was hard to explain.
On Christmas Eve, they write their letters to Santa saying thank you, leave carrots, mince pies and water out and go to bed ridiculously excited. Come the morning, (normally around 6am) they rush downstairs and seeing their faces when they spy the presents under the tree and Santa’s letter to them really is very special. You know the rest……
Two years ago, J who had just turned 10, read the letter Father Christmas had left, looked at me and said, “Daddy, this is in your handwriting.” Thinking quickly on my feet I explained that he hadn’t replied to her and her sister’s letter and as I knew they’d be upset I wrote it instead pretending to be him. She hugged me and thanked me for being so thoughtful. I wouldn’t have minded but I’d spent ages disguising my handwriting. Having children who believe in everything can be a double edged sword. As J finished primary school this July, she still totally believed in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. I was more than a little worried that on her first days at secondary school she’d be having a conversation with new friends and Christmas would come up. She’d then be ridiculed for the next 5 years as being a believer at 11 years old. I was keen to tell her the truth before starting secondary school but just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bear the thought of her losing her innocence and childhood that would surely be partly destroyed upon hearing the truth.
About a month ago we thought it was time (mainy as she always seemed to have a wry smile on her face when we talked about Father Christmas), but as a compromise asked her if she had any questions about him. She said no. I tried again a week later in Starbucks, she said yes. She asked if he was real. The gravity of the situation suddenly hit me, with the truth comes huge responsibility, bigger than being Spiderman or any other super hero. The truth will change the way she sees the world. It will change how she views her past. What if she hates us for stringing her along and lying to her? I couldn’t do it I told her. She asked me again and I told her the truth. I instantly burst into tears, emotional at what I’d done and how she’d now change from an innocent daddie’s girl to a smoking, swearing, angst ridden pre-teen who would find everything I did and said completely embarassing.
I needn’t have worried, as everyone in Starbucks stared at me J came round the table, hugged me and soothed, “It’s ok daddy, everything’s fine.” I dried my tears and she then asked about the tooth fairy. I told her the truth and cried again. More stares, more hugs from J.
The reason for the recent wry smiles; K had shown us part of her Christmas list but specified that the bottom bit was for Santa’s eyes only. Rachel replied, “Well that’s going to be tricky then.” J and her super Spidey sense hearing picked up on it and that led to the Starbucks tear fest. Have a lovely Christmas everyone and enjoy the special times with your chidren, friends and family.