Becoming a parent, back in 2002, the issue of what to do with Christmas soon raised its head for me. Of course for the first couple of rounds the lad was too young to have any clue. He grew up without a television so I largely got away with it until he was about three, and then of course other people started asking him what Father Christmas would be bringing. I left wrapped gifts by his bed that year, he was confused about them, but the joy of unwrapping soon wiped that away.
By the time he was four, I was really uneasy. I didn’t want to lie to him about the existence of a mythic figure who would come down the chimney and leave gifts. I wanted to be able to talk to him about myth and magic, wonder and possibility in a way that would open up his world, and enable him to trust me.
I think it was the year that the boy was 5, that we debunked Father Christmas. His school were collecting for children who had little or nothing, and I watched his growing concern and distress. As a bright lad with a tendency to think about things, he was starting to notice that the magical spirit of Christmas always gave the most to the richest children and seemed happy to leave starving children to starve, and deprived children with little or nothing. He had a sense of fair play from early on, and the wisdom to know this wasn’t it. When I sat him down and explained, he was relieved.
I remember the same year another mother on the playground saying that her son had announced he couldn’t possibly be happy at Christmas unless Father Christmas brought him a gold Dalek. They cost about fifty pounds, and she couldn’t afford it. Where do you even start?
I like the idea of a spirit of generosity at Christmas. However, the idea of Santa rewarding the good children leads to the reinforcing of the idea that money and goodness are one and the same thing. The good children all have rich parents. Poor children will get a very different experience of Christmas, and the super expensive must have, highly advertised Christmas toys are not available to them.
Bring back Krampus!