Belief in Santa is a wondrous thing. I believed in him with all my heart even though he didn’t stop at our house. Well, how could he? We lived in a flat for a start, with no fireplace and no Christmas decorations.
He probably thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses and was being respectful by not coming round and filling our hearts with joy and delight. But we weren’t Jehovah’s witnesses, we were Iranian and my parents didn’t quite appreciate the significance of Christmas.
They were refugees rather than economic migrants. Looking back there was no resistance as such, but perhaps a sad reluctance in committing to the traditions of their host country lock stock and barrel, because fully embracing new traditions meant they were giving up the hope of a safe return to Iran.
They also, naively, to my mind, thought that Christmas was a religious festival. It seemed odd to them that I was desperate to celebrate it. They were baffled as to why I was so insistent on celebrating a festival of a group I was not a part of. As far as they were concerned, I might as well have asked them to celebrate Hanukkah, Diwali or the Chinese New Year. (Of course, this was the 80s. Nowadays, my children join in celebrations of all these things at school and with their friends.)
I couldn’t understand why my parents imagined religion had anything to do with Christmas. Just because we had a nativity play, in which I was shepherd every year (every damn year!), and there was a toy baby Jesus we tossed around. They assumed Christmas was something only Christians celebrated. Every year I would beg my parents for Christmas tree and eventually, one year, they bunged a bit of tinsel on the yucca plant. “Here,’’ my father said triumphantly, "here is your tree.”
Once I had children of my own I celebrated Christmas with the fever of a child who has had to make baubles for the yucca tree out of tin foil.
We have two trees, giant stockings, millions of fairy lights and fake snow with Santa’s boot prints in it. Giving up on an imminent regime change in Iran, my parents shower their grandchildren in Christmas tradition and spirit, acting for all the worlds. Although they have never in their entire lives served dolmas and kofta kebab on Christmas day.
I have instilled a belief in Santa in my children, but when my eldest son was 7, he overheard me telling a friend that a musician of my acquaintance helped me choose the guitar I had got him for Christmas. With a “ha! Gotcha!” smile my boy said “I thought Santa got me the guitar” and we were done.
He was over the pretence, but he goes along with the magic for the sake of his little sister, and, if we are going to be honest, his mother. His sister is now 7 and unlike my son, she has wilfully locked herself in her belief of Santa. There is no question nor quibble about him.
I thought by now her faith might have waned, but when I told her not to expect big presents this year because “mummy hadn’t been working much, so we need to be careful with money,” she said “don’t worry mummy, you don’t need money, Santa can buy all the presents”.
We had a little discussion about how Santa uses mummy’s credit card. It’s not easy sprinkling sugar on a chat with a child about your finances at a time when you want everything to be utterly magical. But she got it. She doesn’t care about getting what is on her list any more than I cared about not getting gifts. The excitement is in the believing, not the receiving. I was never interested in disproving Santa’s existence and neither is my girl. It’s the closest thing I have to understanding religion.
Usually, at Christmas, all my family gather at mine and I do all the cooking (by that I mean Marks and Spencer’s does all the cooking. I heat things up wearing a low-cut top a la Nigella).
This year though, despite the government’s three households rule, we are not having Christmas all together. My parents are in their 70s and both have the “underlying issues” which make Covid-19 hard to fight. We plan to have them put tinsel on household plants for a good few years yet, so we are keeping our distance.
Instead, I’m off with my children to have Christmas dinner with my son’s father and my wife-in-law (his partner) who cooks luscious food from scratch – there is not a hint of M&S debris to be found in her kitchen.
It will be sad not to be with my Christmas-convert parents, but hopefully, it will mean we will have many more to come, Santa willing.