KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
We never considered an exit strategy for Santa in our home. When the children were little — and brimful of that unquestioning, simple acceptance that if they made any sort of a fist of being good, the man in red would tumble into the living room on Christmas Eve laden with toys — the day that he might cross their growing-up names off his list and move on to smaller, newer people, never arose. I think now that we, too, were so overwhelmed with their joy and wonder, we never wanted it to end.
And so it hasn’t. The years have passed, and each of our children has, in turn, reached the age at which Santa struck my own name off his list — but none of them has ever raised the issue of his continuing patronage with us. ‘Well, they wouldn’t, would they?’ I can hear some Scrooges mutter. But many half-rared children do, secure in the new knowledge that parents immediately rush in to fill the void left by a departing man in red. Most of the people I know in possession of teenage children have had some sort of conversation about the physics, the mechanics and the economics of Christmas Eve. Not us. Because, I think now, we weren’t the only ones who never wanted to let Santa go.
And so he still comes to this house where the youngest child is 12 years old and a summer away from secondary school. Three letters still get written — and though there were a couple of shaky years when The Teenager’s was more of a curt note — they are each lovingly illustrated with little reindeer and snowmen and, in the case of The Youngest, pictures of her beloved penguin, Pablo. Pablo spends 364 nights of the year in The Youngest’s bed but on Christmas Eve, he stays in the pouch of her stocking, hung from the fireplace, the better to witness at first hand the magic that happens in the wee, small hours. Santa always brings Pablo a new hat, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it isn’t usually the very first Christmas present he acquires each year.
Anyway, this year, the letters were late going up the chimney. The Boy couldn’t decide what he wanted and after some lengthy discussions and a few shouty arguments, he amazed us by
In my own teens, Christmas morning meant getting up late, grunting at each other and exchanging badly
conceding, with some maturity, that he really wouldn’t get the value from the electronic drum kit he only barely wanted. But with little over a week to go before Christmas and a younger sister getting decidedly edgy about chimney posting deadlines, he still couldn’t decide. And so, with heavy hearts, we agreed that when you’re 14, it’s probably okay to ask Santa for money. Although I also wouldn’t be surprised if Santa didn’t spend the entire next day wandering the North Pole looking to be inspired on behalf of a boy who is refreshingly unmaterialistic and deserves better than a brown envelope on Christmas morning.
And maybe it was because the letters went so late this year that it took Santa three days to reply to The Youngest. She always requests, in her letter, that he writes back, and he never fails: his big, loopy handwriting appearing on lovely old-fashioned paper in the hearth within 48 hours of her letter being dispatched. Between the chaos of our kitchen renovation and the traditional mountain of work to be conquered ahead of the Big Day, I hadn’t actually noticed that Santa hadn’t responded, until I found The Youngest, in her pyjamas, all on her own, sliding her hand hopefully up the chimney two days after the post had been collected. And, in that moment, I suspect Santa realised he had yet another job to do ahead of his busiest day of the year.
My extended family can’t quite believe that all this palaver is still going on in our home. When my siblings and I had got to the age my children are at now, Christmas mornings had fallen into a pattern of getting up late, grunting at each other and exchanging badly wrapped gifts if we’d bothered to buy them at all. But on Tuesday night, my three will all sleep in the same bedroom — as they’ve always done on Christmas Eve — from which they will emerge at an ungodly hour to whisper us awake, and we’ll tentatively creep downstairs together: two parents, a 16-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 12year- old, all of us full of wonder and awe. ‘When did you stop believing?’ a parent at the school asked me just the other day. ‘Never,’ I replied. Because honestly, why would you?