It’s time to quote Charles Dickens again: “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveller back to his own fireside and quiet home!” Of course, back in Dickens’ day, if you were lucky, Yuletide was a goose, a pudding, a nip of gin and some cheap wooden presents for the kids. The enjoyment of the season was the thing; it was all about atmosphere.
How times have changed. Over the past 20 years I’ve spent my spare time during this season as both a professional and volunteer Santa Claus. Whereas it says something for welcome, innocent faith in Father Christmas for the younger kids, those in the 3 – 8 years age group, old Santa has to report that there’s a disappointing growth in cynicism from the older children. For example, at one of my appearances on an estate in Mansfield in early December, after posing for dozens of photos with toddlers and parents, I was accosted by a quartet of junior heretics who doubted my authenticity. “You’re not the real Santa,” moaned one. I asked him why he thought this. “Because you’re wearing a watch. And I looked up your sleeve and you’ve got a black shirt on.” Naturally I asked him, in that case how does Santa tell the time, and that he can wear whatever he likes under his robes. Then another kid suggested that my outfit wasn’t ‘furry enough’ and that if I lived at the North Pole, I’d freeze to death, and I was a fake. A third lad, probably about eleven, laid it on the line; “You’re a phoney. I don’t believe in Christmas, or Jesus and the three kings – it’s all crap. I prefer birthdays, because then I get money!” I said it was very sad not to let a little magic into your life, but he then stabbed me in the heart with “You know, mate, I feel sorry for you, dressing up like that. You’re the sad one, not me.” This seemed staggering contempt for one so young. At times like that, my Yuletide ‘Ho ho ho!’ evaporates.
Yet agnostics or not, they all told me in no uncertain terms what they wanted; X-Boxes, Laptops, I-phones, bikes, etc. To their credit, most of the little girls always seek simpler gifts; colouring books, dolls, Peppa Pig. The lesson I’ve learned as Santa is that despite the junior sceptics, donning the red robes keeps my own spirit alive, the warm memories of the past, those we have lost. It’s a small island in a sea of homelessness, food banks and greed. So let’s remember Dickens who said “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

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