Having a distinctly Scrooge-like attitude, it was the only Christmas task I really enjoyed – overseeing the children’s ritual of leaving mince pies and milk out for Father Christmas, together with a carrot for Rudolf. And later tiptoeing into their bedroom with filled Christmas stockings. For several blissful years I sang When Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney to them and fielded questions about Santa’s domestic arrangements (Is Father Christmas married? What does Mrs. Christmas do on Christmas Eve?) And it all seemed perfectly straightforward…
Could I bluff it out? It seemed so unfair – to be stripped of all the illusions about Father Christmas at the tender age of six. After heartily wishing Katherine Shawcross a really miserable Christmas, I took only option I really had. I told the truth. If I lied now, she would never trust me again.
She was appalled. “But… we write letters to him every year! And in assembly Mr. Weaver read out a poem about Father Christmas and talked about the reindeer and he’s the Headteacher and he hates lying, he told us so… Are you sure it’s made up.”
“I’m afraid so,” I mumbled.
We walked home in an unhappy silence. When she finally started to cry, I nearly joined in.
Of course, it didn’t end there. Her trust in adult ability to tell the truth evidently undermined, my formidably precocious daughter interrogated me about other characters she had doubts about – I soon had to come clean about the Tooth Fairy.
Rebecca frowned. “I’ve always wondered about her, anyhow. And what about this business about God and Jesus, then? Is that the same?”
“Oh no.” At last, I was on solid ground. “There are people who don’t believe in God or Jesus. But millions of clever people around the world do and pray to them every day. While no grown-up really believes in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy.”
She then decided that her four year old brother ought to be told about the ‘Father Christmas lie’, as she put it. After a long discussion, we agreed it would be fairer to tell him when he was at least six.
A relief, as this had been the first year that he hadn’t been nearly hysterical at the sight of a large, red-robed man with a bushy beard. A perfectly understandable reaction, if you think about it. Of course, until confronted with a screaming, sobbing child in Santa’s Grotto, I hadn’t. However apparently, it is a common reaction. My sister spent a sleepless, tearful Christmas Eve before finally getting her youngest to explain he was terrified of Father Christmas coming into his bedroom while he was asleep. So she pinned a note to his bedroom door explaining to Father Christmas that David would rather have his stocking filled in the lounge, after which he finally calmed down sufficiently to go to sleep.
In the face of Rebecca’s outraged reaction, I have often wondered since why we do spin such an elaborate story around a completely mythical character. Maybe, it’s some sort of preparation for all the disillusionments children will suffer, later on. Or maybe, it just seems like a simple, fun thing to do. Has anyone else encountered a similar reaction? I can’t be the only one who ended up being interrogated about the ‘Father Christmas lie’…