December 19 2005

The taxi driver who took us to town for the office do was lamenting the death of Christmas.
“Kids today,” he said, easing into his stride. “They wouldn’t be satisfied with an orange and a few nuts in their stockings like we were. They want computers and stuff.”
We nodded from the back seat.
“It’s not what it was,” we said.
But we were wrong.
It’s exactly what it was. There’s just more of it.
An orange and a few nuts wouldn’t have kept me or my friends happy for very long.
Neither, for that matter, would a stocking.
Spoiled rotten, we expected and usually got a pillow case crammed with goodies.
We were given early presents at school parties, we sent begging letters up chimneys, sang snatches of carols and banged on doors for money. On the day itself we were up at dawn, tore open gifts without looking who they were from, ate mince pies and selection box choc bars until we felt sick and we exhausted both ourselves and our parents with the sheer Christmasness of it all.
Some of us believed in Santa Claus.
My father was recruited as a stand-in for the old chap at my school once and everyone in the class knew it was him except me. Even when I stood in line and he handed me my present I hadn’t the slightest inkling.
I clung to the magic for longer than most, but not as long as my friend Bugs who lived a couple of doors from me.
Apart from a short blip he never stopped believing.
One Christmas Eve, he refused to go to bed, insisting that if there really was a Santa he wanted to stay up until he came.
My parents were invited round for a drink and Bugs, his scepticism boosted by the non-appearance of the festive visitor, steadfastly stayed put. As the evening progressed his cockiness grew and finally he blurted out his conviction that Father Christmas was just a story for kids.
A sharp knock on the window changed all that.
An old man in red and a long white beard peered in and asked: “Why aren’t you in bed?”
Bugs shot upstairs and was asleep in seconds.
A few minutes later my dad rejoined the party.
So here it is again. Season of overindulgence and spreading waistlines. A week for stopping work, drinking too much, eating too much and killing ourselves on the roads.
It’s a singularly inappropriate way to celebrate that Bethlehem business.
Bernard Shaw thought Christmas was forced on a reluctant population by shopkeepers and the Press.
“In its own merits,” he said, “it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred, and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages.”
Humbug, Bernie.
The tills are jingling louder than ever and it gets more difficult each year to see anything of value behind the tinsel. But the magic refuses to go away. Don’t you just love it?
Have a merry one.


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