Why does Santa have to be Real?

At this time of year, any discussion thread on Mumsnet can be derailed by one particular highly contentious issue. The usual shibboleths – loo brushes, wearing undies under nightwear, the Gina Ford devotees vs the babywearers – are swept aside by a truly vicious polarisation over The Magic of Christmas, and in particular, The Magic of Santa.

There is no hope of neutrality. Battle lines are drawn. One camp is made up of parents – I say parents, in the spirit of Mumsnet’s “By Parents, For Parents” motto, but the truth is that it is mothers who are really invested in this – who are obsessed with ensuring that their children Believe in Santa for as long as possible. These are the parents who go to enormous lengths to provide evidence. The disappearance of the traditional sherry and mincepie is not enough – they leave out reindeer food (which disappears, of course), they create Santa footprints and reindeer hoofprints, they buy sleighbells to leave around as if dropped off an accelerating sleigh. The other camp is composed of parents who don’t go in for a full-scale “Santa is Real” campaign. They are not as coherent a group as the first, because they have different motivations for not ensuring The Magic of Santa for their children. Some of them are really po-faced about their ethical stance on not lying to children, but a majority just don’t seem to consider that planned deception on this scale is necessary for a child to have a lovely Christmas. There seems to be absolutely no common ground between the two camps, and where conflict breaks out it is to do with someone from the second camp (usually a child, inadvertently or deliberately) letting the truth slip to a child from a “Santa is Real” family.

I am firmly in the second camp. I loved Christmas as a child; the anticipation, thinking about presents (getting and giving) and the fun of smuggling presents into the house to wrap in secret, the build-up at school (I loved singing carols every day in assembly), the lights and decorations, the Christmas tree, the special food, the music, the long day spent all together with a moratorium on bad behaviour from my dad (for me, this was magic enough) and of course, the presents. My parents did fantastic stockings. They can’t have spent all that much but our stockings were crammed with lovely little bits and pieces, each item individually wrapped in special Father Christmas paper, which is of course the cheapest wrapping paper from Woolworth’s. How did my very busy, not very well-off parents manage to find all these amazing little things for the three of us without us having the slightest idea where any of them came from, wrap them, get them into stockings and then onto our beds without waking us?

Despite my parents’ adherence to the tradition of filling and delivering our stockings in total secrecy, they never pretended that Father Christmas was really real. We knew, from a very early age and without being told, that it is a lovely seasonal game that we played as a family, and A and I have continued this approach with G. We have never told him that Father Christmas doesn’t exist – but then, we never told him that Father Christmas did exist. He knows that Father Christmas is fun, a fantasy, an enjoyable conspiracy that we collude in.

My favourite thing about my childhood Christmases was going downstairs in the early morning for the first sight of the Christmas tree, which my parents put up and decorated after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. My childhood Christmas trees were the most beautiful thing in the world; the familiar decorations, all kinds and colours, and plenty of multicoloured fairy lights, each tiny coloured bulb with its little matching plastic frill. And Christmas Day was always magical. All five of us together, with the magic my parents created with the darling tree, the fantastic stockings, delicious food, lovely presents, a chilly walk in the park, Christmas music, board games, and a truce called on all the usual everyday bickering.

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