*Before we start, if you are under the age of 12 (to be extra safe) this column is not suitable for you. Please do not read on.
Now, mammies and daddies. Are we sitting comfortably?
The threat of Santa is looming large in our house these days. As November has officially morphed into December the “Santa is watching” calls have become more frequent and a bit louder and, yes, at times, even more inventive
I’ve started to get the mammy guilts about the stories (which is a much nicer way to say “lies”) I’ve been telling my eldest. I figure, as he is almost eight we are probably on a countdown to the great big Santa revelation. I suspect his cousin, who is two years older, has cottoned on to the whole thing but hedging her bets by keeping quiet. The simple fact is though, if madam knows, the boy will know soon enough. Those two have not a secret between them.
So with this in mind - the thought we are close to losing our Santa bribe factor - this year has become the year of the extreme Santa stories.
Since he was no age the boy has believed, without question, that as mammy works for the Derry Journal (clearly a very important newspaper) she has, on occasion, the opportunity to speak with the big man himself for the purpose to compiling stories on the most popular toys for the local boys and girls and also, of course, to find out who locally is on the nice or naughty list.
Last year this morphed into a rather grand story whereby I could tell him exactly where he was on the list (and there are three lists... babies and toddlers, big girls and big boys) and how his position changed from a week to week basis.
I could, of course, brief him on who was topping the list, what age they were, what country they were from and what they were called. At one stage, I swear I would have needed to keep a spreadsheet to keep track of my elaborate tall tales. I struggled to remember what Sven (8, generally made the top ten) in Sweden had asked for and whether or Paolo in Spain (7, a real goody two shoes who frequently topped the charts) was being good to his wee sister.
I know we could have just stuck with the “Santa is watching!” calls and frequent threats to call the big man on the phone and report any misdemeanours but sure, that would have been boring. So I sent Santa the odd text. Tweeted him occasionally and told Joseph I liked to poke him on Facebook. Santa and I were quickly becoming BFFs.
This year we started on a high - the old stories resurfaced (Paolo’s had a bad year. The divilment is in him) and of course I had to make the usual calls from work to see how the wains of Derry were doing.
When Santa came to switch on the Christmas lights and we couldn’t make it due to family commitments, the boy gleefully accepted the selection box the big man left into my office for him as a treat.
But as I’d obviously had a one to one meeting with Santa that day, the latest fixtures on the Santa list had to be discussed in detail.
This got complicated when the boy started asking where his school friends were on the list. I was hung either way. If I said they were above Joseph then he would have been gutted. If I told him they were below him on the list there was a chance he would go into school and, like all almost eight year-old boys would do, start boasting about how Santa says he’s a better boy than his friends.
I’d have had a hoard of angry mammies and daddies battering down my door - and would have found myself ostracised from the school gate community for ever more.
So I had to think outside the box. “That information is classified,” I told the boy, stony faced. “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
He hasn’t asked since.
He has however asked, making a valid point, if Santa’s list “has a relegation zone, for when you are being good but could try harder”? I told him it probably does.
‘The big bad truth’
I can’t help but feel, however, that the more elaborate the tales I tell the more gutwrenchingly horrific the whole revelation of the big bad truth is. My son will sit, I convince myself, and weep for poor Paolo who never really existed in the first place and all the camaraderie he felt for him over the last few years. He will then look at him as if I am the most evil mother on the planet for leading him on in such a fashion.
I’ll have to buy him an extra big present (one which I can actually claim the credit for) that year in the hope he will forgive me. And then, as the girl reaches the truly understanding what Santa is all about stage, I get to start all over again with her and hope, against hope, that the boy backs me and my ridiculous stories up.
It will be a sad Christmas when we don’t have the threat of Santa to get us through the colder, bolder nights. So perhaps I’m right to make the most of it. Sure doesn’t even every child need a little bit of Christmas magic every now and again? Even if it is slightly threatening?