In hindsight, it was obvious for a long time, I just didn’t want to see it. By the time I confronted my parents, it was frankly embarrassing. Was Santa Claus real? I knew what they were going to say, but I was still upset. I was upset at them for lying to me, but really I was upset that this figure I believed in wasn’t real. Trips to see Santa at supermarkets or on the old steam railways were a highlight of the holiday season. What did those trips mean if Santa isn’t a real person, but rather just an elaborate show that the whole world (or what seemed like it to my young mind) goes along with?
I was eleven years old at this point and even it really did feel like the the end of an era. Santa, the Easter Bunny (which admittedly made even less sense than Santa), the Tooth Fairy. These things used to be very comforting to me. They were a little magic in the world, and I loved all the little signs of their presence. The stub of a carrot (for Rudolph – apparently no love for the other reindeer) left on a plate that had also carried a mince pie for Santa (now crumbs) and an empty glass that had contained some fancy alcohol, mostly cognac I think. Coming downstairs to see presents under the tree, my younger sister and I revelled in the fact that we’d left something for him as well. Perhaps because I had a younger sister contributed to my delusion for a few extra years too…
Christmas lists, with accompanying reference numbers from the Argos catalogue were dutifully written out, thoroughly discussed with our parents – who pointed out that some of the more outlandish requests might be a little impractical, so it might be better to be more realistic about our expectations. Not that we remembered that on Christmas morning. We were just gleeful. Santa had been!
Not to brag, but my parents rarely had to threaten either of us with “the naughty list”. A more discerning mind would have found it extremely convenient that such a mechanism of control existed. In this day and age, I think such an intelligence gathering operation is a massive privacy violation and data security risk, but when I was young those things didn’t really exist. And such considerations are so… adult. So boring.
Of course my parents told me that I had to keep maintaining the illusion for the benefit of the younger members of the extended family. My sister being only two years younger than me was told at the same time I was that it was true that there was no Santa, but my cousins were still younger and it wouldn’t be right to shatter their illusions.
When you think about it, it’s quite staggering that so many people stage this illusion for the benefit of the children around the world. A deception on that scale for almost any other reason would be horrifying, but because it brings happiness to so many children, we allow it. It probably doesn’t hurt that the children of the world have someone other than their parents to blame if they don’t get what they want for Christmas.
Which of course brings me to the present day, as I prepare for my first Christmas as a father. My daughter will be just over eight weeks old on Christmas day, and too young to understand or remember what’s going on. So I’m saved the explanation for this year at least, but the question has come up; what do we do about Father Christmas, given how shocked, betrayed and disappointed I was when I found out he wasn’t real?
Understandably my view of the world is changed enormously in the twenty years since I believed. The explanation my parents offered at the time still holds up – Santa is the generous part within each of us. I begrudgingly admit that I like that idea. But actually as I think about the whole thing now, at the end of 2016, I think we need Santa more than ever. The world has serious problems, and not a day goes by where I don’t feel a form of anxiety and even despair about what is happening around the world and right here at home. It’s easy to feel like the world is a harsh, unforgiving place, and you can’t expect any help to come from anyone unless they have a vested interest. But I want my daughter to grow up with just a little more hope than that.
In a cynical, depressing world, what better thing to believe in than someone who brings joy to the lives of so many?
I can’t deny my daughter the joy that my sister and I had growing up, rushing downstairs to find out if Santa had visited during the night. Sure, one day she’ll be hurt that it was not really true, but until then, there’ll be a little more magic in her life. And who amongst us couldn’t benefit from a little more magic?
So for my daughter, once again, I believe in Father Christmas.