Santa Claus Is Coming To Town … Or Is He?
By Lisa Botwright
Scrolling through Mumsnet, the online home of all that is competitive, combative and neurotic about parenting, I came across a discussion forum that one mother had initiated – and was shocked at the level of abuse she was receiving. ‘Selfish’, ‘sanctimonious’ and ‘horrid’ were the most printable among the insults flung at her. I wondered what on earth she’d posted to cause such a vicious furore? Scrolling up furiously to uncover her crime, I realised it was true: she was a monster. This woman was admitting openly that she felt uncomfortable lying to her toddler about Father Christmas and that she was considering acknoweldging that he was make-believe.
Whatever your parenting style – ‘tiger’, ‘helicopter’, ‘free-range’ – it generally seems that there’s one non-negotiable: teaching your children that it’s not at all weird that a stout old man with a white beard knows everything about them and breaks into their bedroom once a year while they’re asleep.
I bought into the propaganda too, of course, just as my parents did and my grandparents before them. Who doesn’t want to make the world a happier and more magical place for their little ones at Christmas-time? The problem is that I did always have a strange, niggling reservation about it all. I thought I was the only one; I thought I was being selfish and horrid.
As is usually the way, it all goes back to my childhood. I am aware that I sound completely over-the-top… but when I realised as a ten-year-old that Father Christmas didn’t exist I was devastated – totally distraught, as if all the magic had gone from the world. And I grieved. I went through the motions, but nothing was the same again. It wasn’t that I was spoiled or ungrateful – I love my family and I appreciated all the presents. But nothing could diminish the fact that the most gloriously technicolour day of the year had abruptly turned black and white.
So this was my dilemma when I had my own children. If I didn’t give the day such a supernatural emphasis, then they would love it for what it is – a fun and relaxing holiday in the company of loved ones, with great food, and magic in the form of a big pile of presents – and they would never feel the loss for what it isn’t.
“So you don’t think you’re over-thinking this just a little bit then?” said my down-to-earth, pragmatic husband. And that was the end of that discussion. I still had lingering doubts, but I wasn’t brave enough to be the mother of the five-year-old who tells all her classmates that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, any more than the poor woman who was pilloried on Mumsnet.
So I embraced the whole supernatural thing as much as possible. We visited Father Christmas in his shopping centre grotto and we wrote him letters. On Christmas Eve we followed him on NORAD (a brilliant website by the North American Aerospace Defense Command that ‘tracks’ Santa’s sleigh as it crosses the globe) and we left out satsumas and whiskey. I also nearly messed up on many an occasion. I tripped over a stray toy on the floor when I’d drunk too much Christmas Eve prosecco, narrowly avoiding waking the children up; I sent my son to fetch something for me and only just realised in time that the something was bang in the middle of the pressie hiding place, and I fell asleep more than once while waiting for my over-excited offspring to drift off, waking in a panic in the middle of the night to get everything ready for them. It was lots of fun and I have lovely memories. I was beguiled by their wide-eyed excitement –
but secretly I’m quite relieved that they’ve turned into knowing teenagers now.
“Were you very upset when you realised that Father Christmas didn’t exist?” I asked them a while ago, waiting apprehensively for their own stories of sadness and loss. “No!” they snorted. “Why should we? We still get loads of presents… why should it matter who brings them?”
Thank goodness they take after their sensible father…