Since the age of about 4 or 5, my child has consistently raised suspicions about Santa and the Tooth Fairy, and asks lots of awkward questions. Sometimes I wish he was more wide eyed and gullible and believed more in magic, but it seems I’ve got a mini Jeremy Paxman in the house (much cuter, obviously, and without the massive nose).
‘If we don’t have a chimney, how does Santa get in?’ he asks. ‘If the toys are made by the elves, how come the present he got me had ‘John Lewis’ written on the front?’ ‘If the world explodes in the year 3000, will Santa still exist? (WTF??).Meanwhile, I’m sweating like Eric Pickles under a heat lamp, batting back his enquiries and sounding like a right simpleton. ‘Well, Santa is EVERYWHERE’ I mumble. ‘He represents the idea of Christmas and he can make himself small and fit under doorways and he knows when you’re asleep - shut up and eat your dinner.’
The thing is, kids these days are much more clued up than they used to be. Twenty years ago, there was probably one Santa in every town’s department store and you really genuinely thought he was real – now they’ve gone viral. There’s a Santa Dash, a Santa at school, a Santa in every shop, a Santa stumbling out of every pub.
Children also have the world at their fingertips and are much more aggressively marketed to. Even the most innocent child suspects that the elves don’t make those toys in a workshop in Lapland out of wood and a few bits of string. They might not be able to write you a coherent essay about market forces and international outsourcing, but they’re pretty damn sure that Santa doesn’t spend November welding iPhone 6s and putting together PS4s with his magic red and white striped soldering iron.
So, yes, it’s hard to keep the whole traditional thing going. Why doesn’t he just make it an online only operation? Why, in the age of Amazon drones, doesn’t Santa ditch the reindeer/sleigh? Why do you have to write him a letter? Nobody writes letters anymore! And are the elves on zero hours contracts?
But I still reckon it’s our duty, as parents, to keep the dream alive forever, even if they’re 23. And just as an increasing amount of information might arouse children’s suspicion about Santa, there are also plenty of digital ways to fool them. There’s an app that can pretend he’s calling you (ideal for when they’ve just done something naughty), there’s Elf on the shelf, and my personal favourite, the deeply official NORAD Santa Tracker, which pinpoints him by GPS, delivering presents to China, Ukraine and finally YOUR HOUSE. Last year, it nearly had me convinced.
The best ways to keep the idea of Santa’s visit going strong, though, are the little personal DIY touches that happen at midnight when you’ve had ten glasses of mulled wine. The more elaborate the better, in my opinion. One year we decided it would be cool to make it look like Santa had tumbled down the chimney, so we left a state of disarray in the fireplace - wonky grate, dust, mince pie crumbs, tinsel falling off. (It didn’t really work – our son was only 3 and thought someone had broken in, giving him a lifelong complex).
A friend of mine’s husband covers the soles of his shoes in dried porridge oats and glitter and pretends that the reindeers have been in. And then, there’s my favourite. Every year my friend’s Dad used to nip out of the house on Christmas afternoon to ‘take some presents to the kids in hospital.’ While he was out, Santa would call - AND THEY NEVER TWIGGED THAT IT WAS HIM. You would never get away with that now. Kids these days would be yanking at that beard and putting it on Facebook before you can say ‘Jingle Bells.’
The thing is, though, Santa isn’t just another fat dude with a beard. No, there are plenty of those knocking about all year round, usually in artisan coffee shops in Shoreditch. Santa’s annual appearance represents excitement, hope, and actually - not to put too fine a point on it - love. He’s the embodiment of all the efforts parents make to make their children happy. He represents that white knuckle last minute effort when you’re three sheets to the wind and trying to stuff a Scalextric into a tiny sock.
So you’ve got to believe in that, really, haven’t you? Even if the world does explode in the year 3000 and Santa stops existing, parents will always go the extra mile for their kids at Christmas. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go to Card Factory to buy specific Santa wrapping paper that’s different to the other paper and then practice forging his signature with my left hand. Ho Ho Ohhhhh...
Yes, it’s just me. Or IS IT? Ho ho ho.