The excitement of Christmas Eve was like a permanent fizz ready to explode in my stomach. The anticipation was totally unbearable and my brother and I would wish the day away, keeping ourselves as busy as possible, till sleep time. Not that I could sleep; I just wanted to vomit with excitement at the prospect of an overweight man with magical reindeer delivering a heap of swag under our Christmas tree.
Every inch of our house was covered in decorations. The ceiling heaving with dangling, metallic wonderments and windows alive with flashing electric rainbows busy fulfilling their pre-programmed patterns.
When it was finally time for bed, I crept up the stairs, knowing that the buzz I had been living off since day one of opening my advent calender, would soon be replaced with an overwhelming happiness as I played with my new toys.
As I stepped into my bedroom, tingling with excitement, I noticed my window open. My room was cold. Why was my window open? There….there on the window sill…was that….magic dust? And on the floor underneath the window; two boot prints only a large man could make. Wait, had He been in my room? It wasn’t Christmas Day yet?
I looked around, holding my breath with trepidation at what I might find, scanning every inch of my room for clues. There it was! A present! Laying on my pillow! I shouted, “Mum, Dad! He’s been! He’s been!”
My brother came running in to see what all the commotion was about and saw me looking wide-eyed and open-mouthed holding my present. He looked at me, looked at my present, looked back at me and instantly I could see his thoughts. If He had been in my room, perhaps He had been in his bedroom too?
We both ran as fast as we could along the landing, banging the door open making an almighty crash against the thin, plasterboard walls. We stood still, neither daring to breathe in the silence as we searched for any signs of activity. Laying on his pillow, in exactly the same way, was a present.
We couldn’t contain ourselves and ripped off the paper with such ferocity our presents inside came flying out. HOT WATER BOTTLE COVERS!! WOW!! AMAZING!!!! I had a bear one and my brother had a lion one. The best water bottle covers EVER!
That night, as my brother and I finally came down off of our adrenaline high, we decided to stick together so we could both witness anything we heard or saw. I camped out on his floor in the darkness and we whispered, dissecting like detectives, all the possibilities of how Father Christmas had made it into our house undetected. Every now and then we could hear a muffled bang from above, convincing ourselves that we could hear the reindeers landing on our roof. Was that sleigh bells? We both definitely heard sleigh bells. If I didn’t do a bit of wee, I was definitely going to have a heart attack at any moment. It was just too tense. Too exciting. And I loved it.
I too, vividly remember the year that I knew the truth. The sparkle was lost somehow and the presents became less important without the fantasy behind it. Certainly for me anyway.
However, I never once felt like I had been duped, lied to, or deceived. I only felt grateful, amazed and thankful at the lengths my parents had gone to make Christmas so special. Reliving those stories now only make them more exceptional as I find out the details – I only discovered a few years ago that it was my very own Dad that was the Father Christmas that visited our school. I had sat on his lap, heard his voice ask me what I would like, whispered in his ear, “a My Little Pony pencil with a rubber on the end,” and had tottered off happy knowing I had spoken to the great man himself, without one iota that it was actually my Dad. I love that. I love that I was taken in so much by it all that I didn’t suspect a thing. An innocent acceptance that only a child can have. No matter how much I revisit that memory, I can only remember Father Christmas (and a little boy who was very upset that his little pre-Christmas present was a Garfield pencil and notebook, and not the truck he had asked for.)
Nearly three decades later, it’s my turn to create the magic. Fortunately, I have the added bonus of a smart phone, which Father Christmas has too – he can be messaged instantly to check whether ‘a gold chandelier’ is a possibility (“Sorry, Alice – Father Christmas says it’d be too tricky to put in his sack”) so there won’t be any disappointments from unrealistically high expectations.
The benchmark has been set ridiculously high by my childhood, but I’m going to give it my best shot. My mind gets filled with possible scenarios of trickery and illusion and it feels desperately important to me that my children get to experience that sensation of pure escapism that I felt. To feel like the possibilities are endless.
Some people call it lying. I call it imagination and for me, that’s what Christmas is all about.