I’ve been a parent for four Christmases now, this will be my fifth. But up until this year we haven’t had to give much thought to getting our Christmas story straight. And I’m not talking about the Baby Jesus here (although I’ll get on to him in a minute). I mean the intricacies of the the Father Christmas myth/ magic/ lie – call it what you will, I just never realised how complicated it would be!
I grew up believing in Father Christmas, or at least pretending to (oh, and that’s another thing, he’s definitely Father Christmas – there’s no Santa in this house!) In fact my brother and I were still putting out whisky and a mince pie and a carrot for Rudolph until we were in our mid-20s! I’m all for spreading a bit of Christmas magic.
But as far as I remember I always knew that my presents came from people that I knew. I knew that my mum and dad bought the presents (although we were definitely one of those families where my dad was as surprised as us to see what we had got on Christmas morning), or that my Grandma did, or that they came from one of my many Aunties and Uncles who weren’t actually relations. I definitely knew they didn’t come from Father Christmas because he wasn’t the person I had to write thank you letters to.
I think I thought that Father Christmas delivered the presents though – although I have a feeling even that belief was broken when I was only about 5 or 6 (the perils of having an older brother I guess) but it never stopped Christmas being any less special for me.
So anyway, that brings us to our current predicament. Toby is four and a half, he’s very bright and not easily fooled. (Gabe is two and a half and has no clue what’s going on so we’ll leave him out of it for now). We’ve told Toby that Father Christmas will only bring him presents if he’s good. But we’ve also told him that those presents are paid for by mummy and daddy, and all the rest of his family. He hasn’t asked too many questions yet, but I think we’re just sticking with the line that we send the money to Father Christmas for the presents and he will bring them on Christmas Eve.
I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people who have said that they give a stocking of small presents that come from Father Christmas, and the other presents are from family and friends, but I don’t think we’re even going to go down that road to be honest.
I’ve written before about how Barry and I are atheists but that Toby goes to a Church of England school because we didn’t have any other option. And despite the fact that he is getting a Christian education at school we are trying to teach him to be a critical thinker, to believe in science, and fact, and to question things he doesn’t understand. We already faced a few questions about god over the last few months and have mostly just gone with the ‘that’s what some people believe’ line. Christmas though seems to be bringing about a whole new level of confusion.
The thing is, when you’re four years old, stories tend to get a bit confused and I can understand why learning about the Christmas story from the Bible, and also about Father Christmas bringing presents can bring about lots of opportunities for getting muddled – it’s not easy to see how the two fit together really. Add in the talk of Jesus’ birthday to that as well and you start to get in a bit of a mess.
Last night Toby said to me ‘when it’s my birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday too’. I tried to explain that Christmas and Jesus have nothing to do with his birthday but it was bedtime and he was supposed to be going to sleep so it wasn’t much of an explanation! This morning before school he drew a picture of Jesus in the manger, Mary, and Joseph. It was a good picture and I should say I have absolutely no issue with Toby learning the Christmas story as told in the bible. He told me that god sent Jesus, and a star so when I said to him ‘it’s a nice story, the Christmas story isn’t it?’ He replied ‘it’s not a story, it’s the bible!’
To be honest I’m not too worried about that side of things – we’ll stick to pointing out that the Christian story is just what some people believe actually happened, and that we think it’s just a story. He’ll figure out what he wants to believe for himself eventually.
I’m more worried about Father Christmas. It somehow feels very wrong to be constructing such an elaborate fiction, telling my children things that aren’t true, while also telling them I don’t believe other things that they are being told are true.
There are too many variables, too many people being told too many different things.
I mean what about going to visit Father Christmas, before Christmas. (Which we haven’t done, and probably won’t). I mean, how does that work? I know a lot of people tell their kids that the Father Christmases in garden centres and the like are just his helpers, dressed up as Father Christmas… but why are they here? And why do they give you a present before Christmas? Are you allowed to open it?…
Maybe I’m over-thinking the whole thing and in the process depriving my children of something special but these are the questions I would ask if I was four, and I just don’t have the answers to give him, at least not any kind of answer that would make sense.
I’m already getting myself tied in knots as it is – we don’t do Elf on the Shelf, but we have got a little knitted Father Christmas figure that is sitting on the unit in the hall. In a fit of madness when I was trying to get the boys to put their shoes on and out of the house I said he was Father Christmas’ helper and would be telling him if the boys had been good enough to get their presents. But then tonight on the way to swimming Toby started asking questions – starting with ‘but he’s just wool though – how does he tell Father Christmas?’. So I told him he was magic, and Daddy and I had a meeting with him every night to tell him if Toby and Gabe had been good, and he passed the message on to Father Christmas’. But then Toby said he wanted to talk to him too. So then I made up the next bit – that he only talks to mummies and daddies. Cue tears from Toby because ‘But I want to tell him I love him!’. So now he thinks that Father Christmas’ helper will be able to talk to him on Christmas Day after he has got some extra magic.
Seriously, you make up one little thing and it just snowballs into a whole web of deceit!
Anyway, apologies for my rambling brain dump. I just want Christmas to be magical for my boys, but I’m struggling with the whole lying to them aspect of it. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Nevertheless, they have written their letters to Father Christmas and we posted them on Monday (hopefully the fabulous Royal Mail will do their stuff and we’ll get a reply), we will keep up the pretence that Father Christmas delivers the presents (while trying to squash the idea that Jesus is real), and hopefully Toby and Gabe will still have a childhood full of wonderful Christmas memories.
Do you find it easy to keep the magic of Christmas alive or do you struggle with making up stories that your children believe in? I’d love to hear how Christmas works in your house…