The dreaded questions
‘Mommy,’ says Sasha, my eight-year-old, thoughtfully. ‘Does Father Christmas really exist?’ My heart nearly stops. I gulp. With a sense of foreboding, I choke: ‘Why do you ask, darling?’
She eyes me suspiciously. ‘Jessica says he doesn’t. Jessica says Father Christmas is just daddies pretending. ‘Well, Jessica says all kinds of silly things,’ I say (with what, I hope, is a hearty laugh of confidence, while suppressing feelings of fury towards the hateful little girl for being such a tattle-tale). Then it’s my dear six-year-old, Clemmie’s turn. She’s wearing her best grown-up expression.
‘But how come Father Christmas always finds me,’ she challenges. ‘Even when we stay at Granny’s? She doesn’t have a chimney… how does he get in?’ ‘You’re going to be late for school,’ I reply, panicking. ‘But Mom, you’re not answering our questions.’
‘Later,’ I snap. By which I mean, in 20 years. ‘Quick, get your shoes on.’
Is the magic for the kids… or for us?
It’s pathetic, I know, but I’d rather have a tooth removed without painkillers than break the news to my kids that there’s no Father Christmas — let alone the tooth fairy or Easter bunny. At this rate, Sasha and Clemmie will be moms themselves with bonds and a growing army of anti-wrinkle creams before they stop believing in a jolly, bearded man who fills their stockings with gifts that all bear price tags from the local Toys R Us (which is rather odd, given they’re supposedly made in a warehouse at the North Pole by tiny elves…). I just can’t bear to abandon those enchanting rituals that surround Saint Nick’s arrival.
The joy of tradition
It starts in early December, when I urge the girls to write to him in their best handwriting — even if I have a tricky time explaining that, no matter how good their spelling, Santa won’t bring them a polar bear or a Ferrari.
I look forward to hanging stockings (big enough to fit a tricycle) at the end of the girls’ beds and putting out snacks in the lounge. We used to leave these goodies in the girls’ room, but that ended four years ago after I snuck in at midnight to find Santa’s stash gone, and Sasha’s pillow covered in tell-tale crumbs. Even Rudolph’s carrot bore tiny teeth marks. What fun I had writing Sasha a sad, but kindly letter from Father Christmas, saying how disappointed he was to be deprived of a biscuit — but that he forgave her, because she’d been so good. At least we hadn’t left out the whisky.
I adore sneaking into the girls’ room with laden stockings, the floorboards creaking monstrously as I invent emergency belief-saving lines for when an eyelid — inevitably — flicks open. Even when I step on a piece of Lego, I try to get out a ‘Ho, ho, ho’ as I fumble in the dark, rather than some of my less festive expressions. I can’t confess to being wild about being woken at dawn with shrieks of ‘He’s been! He’s been!’, but the joy in the children’s voices and their awestruck expressions as they inspect their booty (‘But how did he know that I wanted that Princess Pink six-drawer box I saw in the shops last week?’) makes it worthwhile.
The end of innocence
As long as my children still believe, they’re innocents. The day they stop will herald the end of their childhood, the first step to coming home with tattoos and announcing they’re not coming with us on holiday this year, that they’d rather go to the coast with their friends. But perhaps it won’t be so bad. Father Christmas may not be real, but the joy he represents — the sense of Christmas magic — will always be true. Something in Sasha’s eyes makes me suspect I’m about to be busted, but that she can’t bear to give up on the make-believe either. In that respect, perhaps it doesn’t matter: after all, if she wants to find that Bieber lunch box in her stocking, I won’t be the only one feigning belief in jolly old Saint Nick…