It’s a wonderful lie: the Santa delusion

Will Hall questions the ‘Father Christmas Fiction’ of Christmas

Will Hall

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Ah, February. It’s not great, is it? It’s cold, irrelevant, and requires complex mathematics and recall of childhood nursery rhymes in order to ascertain how many days it has. But the worst thing of all is that it signals the final nail in the coffin for Christmas. January manages to maintain the dying embers of the festive season: the presents, the stollen (literally what the fuck is stollen? Is it a real thing? I feel like it’s a conspiracy) and of course New Year’s Day off.

Christmas gently twinkles out during January like the dying embers of a stocking-clad fire, but, by February, Keith from HR has put it out it with the CO2 office extinguisher which stands just next to the photocopier. By February, you’ve long since downed your last mulled wine and accepted the fact that, while that coffee table atlas is lovely, you neither have an interest in maps or a coffee table. All we have to cling onto are the sweet memories of the ghost of Christmas (recently) past.

The February hangover is made all the worse because it’s basically impossible not to love Christmas – the giving of gifts, the being with your loved ones, the taking a dead tree and putting it in the sitting room while it wilts and dies in front of your extended family for two weeks. There is, however, always one aspect of it I’ve struggled to understand (and at this point I should offer a spoiler alert): the Father Christmas Fiction.

"One of the things that baffles me about the Santa myth is why parents go along with"

One of the things that baffles me about the Santa myth is why parents go along with it. They spend all year working hard, slaving away so their little darlings can have all the latest toys, ploughing money that could otherwise be spent fixing that leak in the roof, upgrading the boiler or repairing the cat, into giving their children free things on someone else’s behalf.

It’s not, I should say, the giving of gifts which surprises me. I can definitely see the virtue of biannual bounteousness (the other random-act-of-kindness being Christmas’ long-term lover, the Birthday). And I’m certainly no Scrooge who thinks Christmas should be done away with.

Quite the opposite, I’m obsessed with it. Ask any one of my friends (okay fine, either) and they’ll (okay fine, he’ll) tell horror stories of having to endure the sounds of Mary’s Boy Child (the Boney M version, please) ricocheting down the staircase as soon as I turn the December page of my ‘Steam Trains of Britain’ calendar (not a word), or being force-fed my famous Yule Log, made with thick cream, a dash of brandy and blended-up copies of Elf. (I’m joking of course – I don’t use brandy).

No, what surprises me is that parents - after all the financial and temporal sacrifice of present-buying – are willing to give all the credit over to a man they’ve never even met

I speak as someone for whom Father Christmas was always something of a hero. We took the tradition seriously; my stocking (and it’s a proper stocking. All red and green and knitted. I think it once had a bobble on it, now sadly deceased) would be hung on Christmas Eve in my room. My family hails from the end-of-the-bed school of thought, which is logistically much harder to pull off than its rival. You above-the-chimney parents have it far easier.

Every year the same routine would take place. My parents would be wrapping in separate rooms. Father watching Carols From King’s; Mother, Love Actually. Sister and I would be left to wander the house contemplating the unimaginable excitement of what was to come.

Then one year, I saw something. On the neighbour’s roof. There he was: the great man himself. I turned to my sister excitedly. She, being four years older, was more clued up than me on the ins-and-outs of Santa Clausery. Namely that he didn’t exist. She was also getting concerned that her younger brother, now aged 9 and very much able to tie his own laces (sometimes I amaze myself), was unaware that Father Christmas was a fabrication. I was incognisanta, you could say. (Sorry.)

She gently tried to say that, yes while it could be Babbo Natale, as he’s known to Italians and columnists who are running out of synonyms, it could also be the neighbour’s Santa-shaped rooftop lights. Do you notice the way it seems to flash on-and-off every couple of seconds, say? Or the lack of sleigh and reindeer? Or the fact that he’s been there since 24th November, and every year previous since 1999? That evening as I lay in my bed, there were no visions of sugarplums. It was dawning on me that the man in the red suit was in fact a red herring.

I’d been wilfully deaf to all the clues along the way: when an older boy at school told me that St Nick wasn’t real, I’d reasoned he must have been given coal, hence his lack of Christmas spirit. Then there were the discrepancies – Tom Hughes lived in a chimney-less second-floor flat, so was told that Santa climbed in through his window, and even that he had his own key. Tom always seemed terrified of Father Christmas, strangely.

I also enviously noticed that Santa was significantly more generous to richer kids, which seemed odd. There appeared to be a near perfect correlation between a household’s number of bathrooms and number of presents.

Eventually the myth came to rather anticlimactic denouement when I was playing at a friend’s house (ahh I miss the days of playing) and, as we were eating Party Rings (ahh I miss the days of Party Rings), his mum said to us, “Do you all still believe in Father Christmas or are you a bit old for that now?” Well thanks, Mrs Braithwaite. 12 seconds ago I wasn’t too old. Talk about innocence lost. (It turned out I was late to the party – they’d all known for years – but, as I look back now, at least I was invited. Ah, I miss the days of being inv-). I stared blankly at my alphabetti spaghetti and, swear to God, I could make out the word “disappointment”.

Santa still visits me, but these days he brings more necessities than luxuries. I awake on the 25th to find not toys and sweets, but socks and toothpaste and, memorably one year, a glove I’d lost. But they’re still put in the same stocking, hung at the end of the same bed, and wrapped by the same parents.


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And now as I sit here in the February gloom, I think, on reflection, I do get why we bother to create this fantastical fiction. Because it really does bring a kind of magic to Christmas, a true sense of something enchanting, which is what the season is all about. It really is a wonderful lie!

Besides, if the little shit doesn’t like it, at least it’s not your fault. Just blame the fucking elves.