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Father’s voice

Jude Simpson


My enduring memory of Christmas 2013 will not be the glow of decorations, the carol-singing, or even the raptured looks on my children's faces when they opened their longed-for yet banal presents (Chuggington slippers, Peppa Pig pants, a new toothbrush…).

All these fade to nothing compared with the sight of my husband dressed in full Father Christmas regalia, holding his multi-pillowed belly with both hands and declaiming 'ho, ho, ho,' in a voice several octaves lower than normal.

Over the years, I have variously perceived Father Christmas as a benign, cuddly gift-giver, an evil usurper of Christmas's true hero, or a bemused Saint looking down from heaven wondering how on earth he's been turned into an icon of commercial, meritocratic present-giving (and when exactly he became so obsessed with the colour red).

So I've always wanted to be deliberate in the way we present the Santa concept to our children. But the intention to make a considered, prayerful joint decision on whether to encourage/allow them to believe was swept away when I volunteered the Hubster to play Father Christmas at the Nursery School Christmas Fayre.

'They'll never recognise me!' he said confidently, donning a long, silky white beard and matching wig. I didn't like to point out that it was those facial features not covered by the fake hair that are his most unique ones…

My husband is perhaps not the obvious choice to play Saint Nick. Although he has a happy disposition, he does not possess that portliness of stature that would allow him to be described as jovial (hence the pillows). But he is generous-hearted with a taste for the theatrical… and a wife with a gift for vicarious volunteering.

So in the end, our Father Christmas theology was left to chance - specifically, whether in a candlelit grotto, with someone else's mummy dressed as a Christmas Elf operating a strict ticket system and time limit, they would realise it was Daddy.

Is it better to sow confusion in the mind of your child than to tell a consistent, benign untruth? Or is any untruth by definition never benign? Interestingly, in the two long hours of ho-ho-hoing, the only set of parents to address the issue head-on was an atheist couple. 'Here's Father Christmas,' they said to their children. 'It's actually A's Daddy dressed up.'

It may sounds like deflating a balloon, but their children enjoyed it as much as any. And surely they will benefit from this clarity of approach. After all, it's as important to know what is not true as it is to believe the truth. Or are they missing out? Could childhood myths like tooth fairies and Santa Claus actually be good introductions to believing in a spiritual world more real than the physical one?

On the way home from the Fayre, I asked my three-year old what he thought of Father Christmas. 'Nice,' he answered, 'he gave me this book.' Then, somewhat perplexed, 'he had Daddy's voice.'