How to be Santa: A father’s guide to Father Christmas

My very first Christmas as a father was a walk in the parenting park. My newborn daughter was far too young to understand anything that was happening. She was still trying to work out how to operate her fingers.


The following year, she had started to take an interest in presents but she didn’t really care what they were, as long as the wrapping paper was pretty.


Last year, she was a little more difficult to shop for, as she had grown old enough to understand that a half-empty tissue box wrapped in foil means that Daddy isn’t really trying. But preparing for Christmas on the whole was still a relatively simple exercise because she wasn’t yet familiar with any of the other customs or folklore surrounding the holiday. Santa Claus was just a creepy guy in the shopping centre. If I told her that he was going to sneak into our house while she was sleeping, she wouldn’t have slept for a week.


In the last twelve months, my daughter has managed to learn everything there is to know about Christmas. She talks about it constantly. She talks about Santa delivering the presents. She talks about the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. She talks about Pope Julius I setting the date for Christmas to leverage the popularity of the existing pagan Saturnalia festival and thus ease the transition of the general populace from paganism into Christianity. She’s really done her research.


Now that she’s started to take Christmas so seriously, my wife and I have to take it seriously too. This is the year that we officially establish our family’s Christmas traditions. This is the year that we need to have a plan.


The first step was to decide whether or not to lie to our kids about Santa. Some say that to do so will irreparably harm the parent-child relationship, as the deception must one day be revealed, and this revelation will generate feelings of betrayal and distrust. Others say to lighten up. If you’re not lying to your kids at least some of the time then you’re probably not doing it right. I don’t remember feeling betrayed by my parents when I found out the truth about Santa. When they sold state secrets to the Russians, now that was a betrayal. When they made up a cute little story to justify giving me extra presents, I found it in my heart to forgive them.


With my kids, I’m looking for a balance. I’m happy for them to discover the truth about Santa but I’d prefer it if they weren’t the first in their peer group to find out. I don’t want them to be the little brats who ruin Christmas for all the other families in the neighbourhood by kicking off the playground rumour mill. Then again, I don’t want them to show up crying on my doorstep the first Christmas morning after they move out of home, when they find out that their Santa Claus has abandoned them.


So I’m going to allow for a window of innocence. I’ll play along for the first few years and let my children be children, but if they make it to high-school without discovering the truth, I’ll have to intervene. I’ll take them aside on the first day of school, break it to them as gently as possible that I’ve being lying the whole time, then give them a pony to smooth things over. Trust issues averted. Bamm!


Now that I’ve decided to lie to my children – at least for the first twelve years – I have to start thinking about the logistics of the deception. When I was a kid, Santa left our presents in a plastic bag. He didn’t wrap them or label them. He just threw them in the bag. I was always jealous of other kids for whom Santa left individually wrapped and labelled presents under the Christmas tree. Why did he treat some of my friends like the kids I saw in all the movies, and then toss me a bag of Christmas scraps like I was some kind of yuletide seagull?


When I became Santa, I wanted to do the right thing by my kids. Every gift would be individually wrapped. No expense would be spared. I’d give my children the platinum, V.I.P., Santa treatment that I’d envied so much as a child. I’d be the greatest Santa ever.


Then I started to think about what being the greatest Santa ever would entail.


First of all, there would be risks. What if the kids recognised Santa’s handwriting? That’s always a possibility. So do I write the labels with my other hand, and blame the poor penmanship on Santa’s learning disabilities? Or do I cut letters out of the newspaper and label each present like a ransom note?


And what about the wrapping paper? Santa’s presents can’t be wrapped in the same paper as Mum and Dad’s. That’s going to be an instant red flag to any kid with half a brain. So now I need somewhere to hide a secret stash of wrapping paper, not to mention all the presents that should rightly be sitting in Santa’s workshop. Am I going to need to get a vault?


When am I going to wrap all these presents, anyway? When the kids are out at their poker game? I need time to wrap things properly. I can’t do it under pressure. Like Vanilla Ice, as hard as I might try, I’m just not a very good wrapper.


My folds are uneven. I forget to remove price tags. I’m always giving myself far too much or not quite enough paper. My taping technique is pitiful. I’m constantly tearing holes in things. I have an embarrassing inability to wrap around any corner that isn’t a perfect right angle.


Just the thought of going through all that pain every single year is demoralising. I finally understand where my childhood Santa was coming from when he decided to put our presents into bags. Another lesson learned. The circle of life continues.


So bags it is then. Bags aren’t so bad, are they? I’m sure the parents who spend all that time wrapping Christmas presents are neglecting their children in other ways. While Mum and Dad are holed up in the garage, wrapping away in secret for hours on end, the kids are off smoking meth at the cock fights. I’ve seen it a thousand times.


Being Santa Claus isn’t easy. It not easy to sneak around behind your children’s backs for weeks. It’s not easy to stay up all night on Christmas Eve when you’re used to going to bed straight after Two and a Half Men. It’s not easy to watch your precious child hurtle down the road on a bike that you put together at 3 a.m. in the midst of a sleep-deprived stupor. But it’s worth it all just to see the excitement and anticipation on your children’s faces as they lay out that plate of cookies and glass of milk for Santa. On second thought, if we’re the ones coming up with all the Christmas traditions, let’s make that a plate of cookies and a glass of single malt whisky for Santa. And don’t forget Santa’s reindeer, kids. They’re gonna need cookies and whisky too.


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