The myth of Father Christmas: harmless fun or just plain selfish?

Christmas is absolutely, 100%, irrefutably the best time of the year. That is a fact.

No one and nothing will ever detract me from my evangelical adoration of the festive season. Everything about it is brilliant: the food, the mulled wine, the music, the parties, the presents, squashing every member of your family around a minuscule table and realising at the last minute that you haven’t got enough chairs so you have to eat your roasties perched precariously on an old packing box piled high with threadbare cushions. I even like the shopping.

The only downside is that when you’re a 17 year old, or 22 year old, or 30 year old who loves Christmas that much, people quickly get tired of you or brand you a loon and a child.

But it’s ok now; I’m no longer branded a child, because I have a child. A child is the passport to all things Christmas! No one tells me off anymore, because it’s ‘not for me, it’s for him’.

Now that my son is old enough to sing ‘When Santa got stuck up the Chimney’ , and has a vague grasp of the concept that when his advent calendar runs out he’ll inexplicably be showered with presents, we can really go to town and indulge my…erm, I mean his… festive desires.

We’ve been to the panto: he was terrified of the witch and asked to go home within 2 minutes. I said no. He was going to enjoy shouting ‘cooee!’ at a man in a dress whether he liked it or not!

We’re making our own Christmas Cards; he doesn’t want to. He’s made it clear he’d rather build Lego towers, but it’s a festive family activity so we’re doing it – I’ve already bought the Christmas stickers.

We’ve scrambled through crowded Christmas markets, we’ve watched the most uninspiring Christmas lights turn on in the world, and I’ve traumatised him forever by forcing him to watch The Snowman. After much moaning about wanting to watch ‘dinesoor fiiilm!’ he relented. We cosied up on the sofa and I watched delighted as he was slowly mesmerised and won over by the Christmassy wonder. By the time of the snowman party, we were up on our feet, joining in the dancing and pretending to fly back home. It was only moments before the end I realised my mistake. I watched my son’s smile fall from his face as he stared at the screen and mumbled ‘Mummy. That boy looks sad!’. I had forgotten how horribly and suddenly the beauty of The Snowman comes to an end. It was a significant flaw in my ‘get the boy to love Christmas as much as me’ master plan, and a bit of a traumatic moment for us both.

Undeterred, we have, of course, been to see Santa. I knew he wouldn’t like it. Why would he? Being dragged into a tiny dark room, pushed towards a man in a ridiculously ostentatious outfit whose beard is so large you can’t see his face and being instructed to reveal your innermost desires. It’s weird! Yet we pushed ahead and when the inevitable ‘No! I don’t like Santa!’ came, we laughed, gave him a cuddle and continued to sit there in the grotto. When we finally left, the boy was still baffled but cheered by clutching a cheap plastic penguin. Swiftly, we set about the inevitable task of reordering his perception of life: ‘Wasn’t it exciting to see Santa? Shall we go tell everyone about it? If you’re a good boy he said he’d bring you a train set. Isn’t that nice?’

When you think about it, the whole concept of Father Christmas is weird, selfish and a little bit cruel.

First, it’s clearly a construct of a purely capitalist society. Aside form the fact that we’re essentially voluntarily indoctrinating our own children into a lifelong obsession with Coca Cola (did you know the red outfit and beard were their invention?), we’re teaching our children to value stuff above all else: behave well, get toys and you don’t even have to thank the person who gave you them, because you never see them.

Next, let’s focus on the weirdness of forcing our children to embrace (sometimes literally) a complete stranger, contradicting every other safety message we give them. Then, as if forcing them to meet him wasn’t enough, we tell them that this man is going to break into our house while we’re all asleep and vulnerable, where he’ll feast on snacks we gave him so he has the energy to carry on breaking into our neighbours’ houses too! Finally he’ll help himself to some booze and head on his merry way, keeping up the age old Christmas tradition of drink driving. I wonder what the limit is when you’re in charge of a reindeer powered vehicle.

Finally, perhaps the biggest issue for many parents, is the lying; sugar coat it however you want, but that is basically what we’re doing. We’re lying, telling them to believe in something which we know isn’t true. Knowing their innocence is going to be shattered in so many ways as they get older, why do we choose to add an extra disappointment? For all the fun it provides through the early years, for every time we trundle down to Santa’s grotto, for every mince pie and brandy we place carefully by the fireplace, for every letter we send to the North Pole and for every relative we get to phone up and put on a funny voice to persuade the kids to be good and go to bed, we should know there’s a big old disappointment waiting somewhere down the line. One day when some mean old bully at primary school leans over after the Carol singing and whispers in your little treasure’s ear ‘you know Santa’s not real…’ And they run home in tears, in many ways you’ll only have yourself to blame.

I ramp up the Christmas excitement in our house knowing that I’m setting us up for a fall. It will be The Snowman all over again: caught up in the warmth and fun if the season, we’ll get carried away and forget the inevitable ending, until one day my son’s face falls. He’ll have to face the sad reality which has been hidden from him for so long, and I’ll have to face the guilt that I knew it was coming, and let it happen anyway.

Ah well. Sod it! It’s just a bit of fun. It’s years before I’ll have to tell him the truth. Now pass me the mulled wine and a mince pie.

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4 responses

  1. Very funny but with some uncomfortable truths. As a new dad I am a little scamper away from the beginning of the lie, ahem, magic. Do you think it’s possible to ‘do Father Christmas’ in a way that makes clear in a nudge nudge way it’s all pretend? Like the way we pretend the toy bunny is alive but clearly isn’t? Or as a way of introducing fantasy? Just a thought. Interested in people’s views!

    1. Hmm. I’m not sure. Think it may have to be a bit of an all or nothing thing. Weird as it is, I can’t ever imagine not doing the Santa thing. You’d feel like such a killjoy!

      1. Oh well. Next year then! šŸ™‚

  2. I always felt uncomfortable about Santa. When mine were little (long time ago) I was in on the internet (newsgroups we were back then) with a crowd of very hippy alternative mums and it seemed much more acceptable to see the problems of promoting Santa to kids when it wasn’t real. I didn’t push it – daughter realised he wasn’t real about age 7 when unfortunately one year she couldn’t sleep and saw me doing the stocking at the end of her bed. Stocking by the chimney is a much better idea! Also it becomes very weird when they get to age 10 and there’s always one kid who doesn’t realise he’s made up and everyone else does.

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