My Mum was properly into Christmas. My Sister used to say that there were only ever 2 times of year to my Mum: Summer and Christmas. In Summer it would be all about sun lounging in a bikini trying to get a tan, but soon as Summer was over the Christmas-themed toilet seat covers would be out (no, that’s not a joke — she even knitted them herself).
So naturally she would attempt to instil the magic and spirit of Christmas on her children. Me being one of them I was also a Christmas fundamentalist. I would wear a Santa hat for the entire duration of December and loved everything from putting the tree up, to carol singing and Christmas dinners.
I was in the final year at Primary School, so around 11 when the teacher asks “Put your hand up if you still believe in Father Christmas”. I’d seen the movie’s and read the stories. I knew if you didn’t believe in Father Christmas then he doesn’t come to your house on Christmas eve. I’m at a School filled with children and teachers. Children have a natural tendency to believe in Santa and the teachers are surely intelligent enough to understand the concept that not believing will result in empty stockings on Christmas morning.
The movies would portray any non-believer as a fool, a halfwit, one who is mocked by those that believe and who would eventually have their epiphany when a Christmas miracle happens, and their spirit of Christmas is rekindled. Think of the character Neil from The Santa Clause movies. A psychiatrist who attempts to convince young Charlie that Santa isn’t real, but Charlie never doubted and eventually even Neil is born again as a believer as Santa delivers his one Christmas present that he never received as a child. I didn’t want to look like Neil.
I prepared to raise my hand, wondering what fate would befall any student that chose not to put their hands up. Would the teacher scold them? Reason with them? Get Santa on the phone there and then? Perhaps the teacher was a non-believer after all and myself and my classmates would need to rally round and convince them or try bringing about some Christmas miracle to reawaken their Christmas spirit just as with Neil in The Santa Clause. My hand was partway raised from the desk when I noticed it.
No one, not a single person was putting their hands up.
Not the teacher. Not the children around me. I was alone. My hand dropped back to the desk from it’s hovering position and my heart felt as though it had been kicked by a reindeer. I became sweatier than a snowman in the sun.
This was the moment I realised.
It was all a lie.
My mind matured in an instant as I began unravelling the strands from the web of deceit spun by my mother and father. Like every year when we walk around the shops and I see a Beano annual and I ask if I can buy it and every year they say “You’ll have to wait and see if Father Christmas gets it for you”. They said that because they knew he would get it, because THEY were Father Christmas.
Leaving the classroom that day I walked with red mist in my vision towards my Mum. She was a childminder and so was waiting at the school to collect children from a number of year different groups and classes.
I don’t remember the exact words, but they were probably something along the lines of “You lied to me!”, “Father Christmas isn’t real!”, “The Beano annual, it all makes sense now!”. My Mum was trying to hush my words and made me aware of younger children around me. She wanted to spare them from the truth. To continue the lie. For their sake, I held my tongue.
I think about this memory quite often and it’s probably a defining moment for most people. I’d love to hear other people’s stories, but hopefully they’re not as traumatic as mine. I wonder if we need to have a consistent approach to informing children about the great lie, but I expect most parents will aim to keep the magic going for as long as possible. My daughter is 2 years old now and it’s the first Christmas where she has some understanding that Father Christmas is coming and that he’s going to bring her a Ninky Nonk from In The Night Garden. I’m not quite sure if it will be me that breaks the terrible news to her when she comes of age or if some evil teacher will scar her for life, but if it *is* me I’d probably do it in June time to give her enough time to come to terms with it.