How old were you when you discovered Santa Claus wasn’t real? I was nine. Yes… nine.
My parents made a huge deal out of this kind of thing. Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, you name it: They were all very much a presence in our house as we were growing up, and entities my sister and myself would very much look forward to seeing… and experiencing.
At Christmas, we would receive a personal visit from Father Christmas. ( To be found out of course that this was infact actually my uncle dressed up as; Father Christmas in a Santa suit). It really was the highlight of our day. That, and the presents. That really goes without saying though. Usually he would arrive in my grandfather’s little red convertible… I want to say it was a Honda? He would go ‘pick him up’ (where from I am not sure, the nextdoor neighbours? But as children we don’t question these kind of things, we accept them) and would arrive with a present each for my sister and I. Invariably, of course, the best presents of the day.
The day I registered he was a figment of another imagination, he had arrived, as he always had, in the little red sports car, the gate bell had rung. The gate had been opened. As every year prior to this. And I remember the sound of the car turning into the driveway, it’s tyre’s on the gravel. I remember noticing the sound more than usual that year. He stepped out the car and walked towards us. Jolly, as Father Christmas is, was. ‘Ho ho ho, Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas!!!!’ But as he got closer, I looked down at his shoes. They were the same shoes my uncle had been wearing earlier that day… I remembered them. What had prompted me to look down? I didn’t say anything. My little sister ran up to him, I remember her, looking back at me, beckoning me to come after her, excited, her smile saying, ‘hurry, the best present of the day is here’. And I think, I know, I didn’t show my apprehension on my face. I, of course, followed her, fained excitement, all the while hiding within my soul something I knew, deep down, but didn’t want to admit to myself. I mean, I had suspected it….
I had known something was amiss for a couple of years prior to this. You know, I had waited, like many of us: On Christmas Eve, waiting to see Santa Claus, the reindeer, hear sleigh bells. Snow, no, not so much, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But I never managed to stay awake for long enough… And it had never bothered me, I always knew there would be next year, and I could sit up and wait for him again. Next year came too soon.
At that moment, as I was stood there looking down at the shoes I knew belonged to my uncle, I wished that I hadn’t noticed them. I wished, so deeply, so strongly, that I could go back… just two minutes in time… and not look down. That would make everything ok wouldn’t it? I believed that…. I didn’t want to admit that something that had been such a huge, integral part of my life up until this very point, just ….wasn’t real.
But, we grow up. And with growing up we lose belief in things and ideas that just can’t be real. Can they? And from that moment on I knew Father Christmas wasn’t ‘real’. Everything sort of fell into place that day. I knew he didn’t write a list, trying to find out who was naughty or nice. I knew it wasn’t him who was eating the cookies or drinking the milk or somehow knowing what the best presents were… strangely, the ones that I always wanted the most. I knew he was a fabrication of something else… I wasn’t sure what that was yet…. But I was ok with that. I felt like I admitted that to myself and left him behind that day, the day I looked down.
Honestly, somewhere deep inside me, in my truest heart, I never stopped believing. And I think that this is the most important thing. Because, is it not the hope in that idea and that concept, of what Father Christmas represents to children everywhere, that is most important? And invariably, what my parents were trying to replicate when they started this journey many years ago with us. I know that now. Or rather, I understand it now. I still hope that Father Christmas is out there somewhere though: Making a list. And checking it twice.
But just remember, when you look down, be prepared to see something that you don’t want to admit to yourself. There is no turning back from that moment. Life will change…. It will go on, but it will change.