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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

wrapped gifts

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?

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