Christmas in our house is a time of great joy, largely because my husband and I are freelancers, so between us we have approximately three-and-a-half days off over the festive period and, by God, we plan to enjoy them. This year, it will also be a time of great relief, because for the first time we now have a car, which means visiting family will no longer involve loading our belongings, squashed gifts and part-baked lunch contributions on to the buggy, then traipsing for miles in dark moods and light drizzle.
Finally, Christmas is – of course – a time of great (and little) lies. Lies such as “Sorry, Baby Shark is closed at Christmas” and “Turkey is actually a special Christmas sausage and so are Brussels sprouts”. I’m fine with these lies, because they get everyone fed and make the day go more smoothly. But there are two festive lies – two big ones – I’m struggling with. These are they:
1 Yes, Father Christmas exists
When my older son was very little, Father Christmas didn’t even feel like a lie – it was just one of the textures of the season. At this time of year, we pick holly, we put a pine tree in our house, tinsel and candy canes abound and you’ll see this puffy, red-suited old codger all over the place.
Now, though, there are certain hard-and-fast rules I’m trying to lay down, such as “Always try to tell the truth”, “Be wary of strangers – and, very specifically, don’t let them into the house” and, finally, “Don’t play in the fireplace” (hey, you have your moral landscape and I have mine; I just don’t want mine set on fire or covered in soot).
So, it’s hard to square it with myself that I’m not telling the truth about this stranger who invades our house while we sleep, and then – to add insult to injury – messes about in our fireplace without a care in the world.
The other thing is he is terrified of Father Christmas. Every year, we’ve taken him to Santa’s Grotto and, every year, the boy shrinks against the opposite wall, his face a replica of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (we use the resultant photo for our family Christmas card, because we’re terrible people). I tried reading him The Night Before Christmas once and he genuinely reacted as though I was describing the plot of a home-invasion movie.
2 Sorry, there weren’t any elves available for our shelf
There are many reasons I’m not taking part in the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. Firstly, I find the notion incredibly creepy. You buy this little elf doll, stick him on a shelf, then tell your kids he’s a spy for Father Christmas? And that he’s monitoring them for good and bad behaviour, and his findings will inform how many presents they receive? That’s awful.
It’s hard to square it with myself that I’m not telling the truth about this stranger who invades our house while we sleep, then messes about in our fireplace without a care in the world
What you’re teaching is that a) despite delivering children’s toys around the world in a single night fuelled only by mince pies and brandy, Father Christmas is somehow unable to decide by himself whether those children deserve those toys; b) behaviour is intrinsically linked to consumerism; and c) snitches, in fact, do not get stitches. All of this is the very opposite of the values I try to instil in my own children.
Also, you’re supposed to move the odious little tattletale around every night and have him in place by early December. I, whereas, cannot be relied upon to remove my make-up every night, and generally don’t start thinking about Christmas until the middle of the month, so this is not a tradition I plan to embrace (unless I change my mind further down the line due to peer pressure and my own lack of backbone).
Lying to my kids has started to feel weird, especially as the older one is rocketing towards school age, and my role is changing from “basically just keeping him alive” to “shaping how he experiences and interacts with the world”. But I try to comfort myself with the fact that, when I found out the truth about where my gifts came from, my world did not end. I did not round on my parents, call them traitors and assume everything they’d told me was a lie, too.
And I guess my kids already know their parents lie. They see it every time I tell someone I’m fine, when I’ve spent the morning complaining about my faulty hip and how much work I have to do. They witness it every time their father shouts “Fuck off!” at a ringing phone, then answers it in a voice so friendly it might – in fact – belong to Father Christmas.
So, maybe I should just chill out about lying to them at Christmas. Yes, it is the law that Mummy has to watch Miracle On 34th Street and cry into her chocolate liqueurs. No, you wouldn’t like mulled wine. Yes, socks and toothpaste are perfectly serviceable stocking gifts.
And, yes, Father Christmas is real. What’s that? Why, yes, he is Jesus’ cousin. In fact, we should probably have a chat about Jesus. But that can wait until next year.