... to the non-believers
When I look back on childhood Christmases they do seem to meld into one or two ‘iconic’ ones. Some of the events I’m recalling must have happened during the same festive season, but under the age of seven I wasn’t really paying attention and they all do tend to collapse into one loose memory where chronology seems unimportant. In general I think when is probably less important to children than what. Anyway, I call these memories the ‘Happy Christmas’ period. That happiness was soon enough to end, and while I’m wise enough now to know that it wasn’t my Advent calendar crime that sparked off all that followed, I think that was the year that marked the beginning of the end. Let’s assume it was the same year that my brother really started agitating that Santa didn’t exist.
I suppose that I was now getting ready to accept the fact, because after all, I’d committed the crime and I hadn’t been a good girl and so if I believed in Santa he’d not be rewarding me but punishing me, and why believe in someone who is only out to punish you if you fall short of their intolerably high standards? This is a question that might be asked of all the Old Testament type religions. God, and his representative on earth Santa, ought to be love, not accountants doing an audit on how ‘good’ people are. But it all gets warped too early on. There’s far too much scope in the whole Santa myth (and for my money the whole God myth) for things to turn bad, to be bad and to make people feel worthless and guilty. There’s not enough love in the world.
So, for a time, the space maybe of several advent calendar openings, I toyed with the idea that my brother was right. That Santa didn’t exist. I started an investigation. Asked for evidence (but not too much evidence, I still wasn’t totally ready to lose the ‘free’ gifts.)
‘So who is it?’ I asked.
‘Our parents,’ he replied.
‘But how about the carrots and the water and the mince pies?’ I asked.
He rolled his eyes. He was three years older and experienced in the difference between circumstantial and ‘real’ evidence.’
‘And I’ve heard reindeer,’ I said. I didn’t want to let go. I was clutching at straws. ‘On the roof.’
‘Well stay awake all night and you’ll see he doesn’t come,’ he said.
Now that was just stupid. Now I knew Santa existed and my brother was just trying to get me into trouble.
‘Of course he won’t come if I stay awake all night,’ I reasoned. ‘He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…’ I quoted what is not strictly a carol but a Christmas Song all the same.
Eyes rolled again. ‘You’re too old to be so stupid,’ he said. ‘Ask at school. You’ll see. No one believes in Santa when they’re seven.’
‘But I’m not seven yet,’ I said.
My brother was a player, even before we knew what one was. Maybe it’s the province of the elder child. They’ve seen it all before. They are destined to know more than you right through the joint childhood which you share but which is not conducted on an equal basis. You feel aggrieved that they get to stay up later, seem to be treated better; whereas they bang on about the responsibility of being elder and never quite get over that you were the manifestation of a ‘surprise’ they found they didn’t really want and certainly never asked for. I guess if you’ve suffered the ‘surprise’ of getting a little sister when you were hoping for some more model train track, you are going to see through Santa pretty quickly.
But for me, the best evidence at all for the existence of Santa was that my brother was becoming insistent that I should stop believing. I became sure it was part of a plan – probably in revenge for the advent calendar incident, which he probably knew about but hadn’t said – he was probably working on the revenge is a dish best served cold plan. The more he kept telling me, giving me what he stated was incontrovertible evidence, the less I believed him.
The one question I didn’t ask him in my exploration into ‘truth’ was – why. If Santa doesn’t exist then why do our parents pretend he does? It was a question I did turn round in my own head, or started to that year. And it was a question that would come to the fore soon enough. But that year, while I was still desperately clinging on to the myth with the tinsel, I didn’t ask why.
I played along with all the ritual. We fought over hanging the decorations on the Christmas tree. Our family always had a real Christmas tree. Like everyone else the fairy lights always broke so that was the first family argument. Then we couldn’t find the baubles. Then someone broke one of them – always a special one – and was chastised. Then we argued about what should go on top of the tree – a star or an angel.
Our tree was always a last minute affair, put up on Christmas Eve. One year when I was very young, I remember going to buy the Christmas tree with my dad. We went round a nursery, it was a bit reminiscent of the ‘pick the most photogenic Santa’ affair, and we picked out our own tree, brought it home on the roof of the car and into the bucket it went. That tree, like every other tree we had, started shedding needles straight away so that even Christmas Day was not a hoover free day. Indeed, hoovering had to be done before presents could be opened. The torment of Christmas morning was seemingly never ending. It was always ‘no presents till after’ and ‘no presents till after’ as they sat there stacked under the tree. And heaven help us if we actually went under the tree before Christmas morning to see which present was allotted to whom. It was strictly a no-go zone, and that not just because of dodgy fairy lights and shedding needles.
Stockings were the big pull for me. Consequently Santa was probably the best bit of Christmas. And that’s because you were on your own, in charge of your own ‘fun.’ As long as you were quiet you could wake as early as you liked and as long as you kept yourself quiet you could have a good couple of hours of enjoying the presents before you had to get up, eat breakfast, jump through the many present opening hoops and begin on the ‘oh that’s lovely’ routine where you show the right amount of gratitude for each gift. In my case this was often hard because one of my grannies insisted on sending me dolls and I was not a doll type child.
In my time I got small china dolls that couldn’t be taken out of the box, baby dolls that cried and wet themselves (I buried that one in the garden) A Cindy doll when my brother got an Action Man, (I got an Action man for my birthday that year, so I obviously didn’t disguise my lack of gratitude that well!) and one year this huge doll nearly the same size as me. I remember she was called Susan and I was pretty scared of her to tell the truth. At least she wasn’t a present from Santa. If she had been, I’d have known he didn’t exist.
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An advent calendar of memories that are not for the faint-hearted.