If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been invoking Christmas for weeks, maybe months – dangling the possibility of presents (or not) and answering detailed questions about exactly how and when these presents will be delivered.
Until your eldest kid is three-ish, you’re golden. They blithely accept whatever Christmas references you make, no questions asked. When Christmas Day arrives, a massive pile of presents for your baby or toddler appears and they spend the day happily ignoring them, instead playing with a cardboard box or staring at their reflection in a metallic tree bauble. Then someone hits fast-forward and you’re blindsided by a question like: “How does Santa get in our house when we don’t have a chimney?”
“The cat flap!” I panic-shouted back when it recently happened to me. “But at Grandpa's house he knocks on the door because they’re friends.” I wanted an alternative in case he was – quite rightly – worried about the idea of a stranger appearing in our house.
Once again, my husband and I had no time to discuss our party line on the topic or how much we were going to commit to the Christmas story. Instead, the lies just spilled out. I didn’t keep track of what I was telling him, or really think my answers through, which meant more questions because there were so many holes in my explanation. He was like a miniature Jeremy Paxman, cutting through every wishy-washy response I gave.
Him: “Why does Santa bring the presents if they’re from Mummy and Daddy, and Granny and Grandpa?”
Good point. I do want him to learn that people bought the presents for him, so he says thank you to the relevant relative. But now he thinks Santa is a fancy-dress version of the Hermes delivery driver.
Me (triumphantly): “Because some of the presents are also from Santa himself.”
Note to self: remember to label one of the presents ‘From Santa’.
Him: “How old is Santa?”
Me (breezily): “Oh, very old. Thousands of years old, I think.”
Him: “Does that mean he’s going to die soon?”
Me (now desperate for a diversion): “Shall we get going with writing your Christmas list?”
It’s a minefield. I’d barely recovered from the barrage of questions about Halloween and Bonfire Night (it’s only when you break down The Gunpowder Plot to a small child that you truly appreciate how bizarre setting off fireworks to commemorate it is) and my Google searches were going through the roof again. Once he was in bed, we had to have a Santa summit, to ensure our particular familial version of the Christmas story was watertight.
That led us to the Nativity (a story that to non-religious people like us makes Father Christmas seem totally plausible), so we could attempt to prepare some thoughtful and/or insightful answers about the different things people believe, why they don’t all believe the same thing and how to be respectful of all of these beliefs. At least with Santa, if you don’t know the answer, an acceptable response is to just say, “Because it’s magic!”
As with most things, we settled for cherry-picking bits of all the different Christmas messages, both religious and not. Our main themes are kindness, sharing, always offering a pregnant woman somewhere to rest (the Nativity is very much an allegory for tube travel, no?) and the importance of family. And dangling the possibility of presents as a behavioural carrot, of course.
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