By SUNNY GRACE
*Spoiler alert – this article contains suggestions that Santa isn’t real.
I usually get excited about Christmas but this year I’ve been feeling a bit bah humbug. Perhaps it is the result of these tumultuous times. The thought of organising, shopping, and celebrating seems overwhelming. And yet we are all in need of a good celebration, so I will try to get myself in the mood by reflecting on Christmas’ past.
Christmas wasn’t high on the list of celebrations amongst the hippy community who were anti-capitalism and not big on religion. Being a fantasist and believer in magic I adored the stories of Santa and his flying sleigh and reindeer. Despite working out or being told when I was very young that Santa wasn’t real, I managed to suspend disbelief for years to keep the fantasy alive in my mind. I know there is some parenting advice to not lie to your kids, but I think we are discounting kids’ ability to live in two worlds, the real and the imagined.
One of the highlights of our Bush Christmases was Santa coming to the local hall. One of the hippies who had changed his name to Bob Diehappy was a steam engine expert. He built a steam train that went on the road and he would dress up as Santa, drive the train to the hall to give all the local kids a present. I’m pretty sure we left harder stuff than lollies out for this version of Santa. At one of my other mother’s houses (family trees can get complicated when you grow up with the hippies but it’s always good to have “backup” like the kid in About a Boy – one of my favourite Christmas movies), I loved the lead up to Christmas.
Instead of using tinsel to dress the tree, we would make paper chains. Rather than store-bought crackers, we would make them from toilet rolls and crepe paper filling them with candied almonds. For a hippy kid, this was like gold because trust me, carob is not a replacement for chocolate, ever. Sitting at the table with this extended family creating Christmas together was special.
At age seven, at my grandma’s house in Adelaide, I was exposed to the Christian traditions of Christmas. In the living room sat a huge tree covered in tinsel and fairy lights. We gathered in the living room on Christmas Eve to sing carols. Dad’s family are very musical with violin virtuosos and professional choir singers. I did not inherit this gene. I was sitting beside my grandma watching them perform when I noticed a bowl of lollies on a side table. Now, you must understand the lure of a lolly when you don’t get to have them. Hippies are not fans of sugar. I couldn’t keep my eye off these lollies. I slowly reached my little hand out to grab one and put it in my mouth. Not fast enough. My cousin turned to me and yelled; you can’t eat those! They’re for Santa.
My Grandma, who was the kindest person I know, looked across at me and saw the fear and shame in my eyes. She turned to my cousin and said, it’s okay – we have plenty more. And got up to replenish the bowl. I remember looking at my cousin and thinking, wow – she really believes in Santa, encouraging me to suspend my disbelief even more. Grandma returned with more lollies and a Santa sack for the mantelpiece. The next morning all the kids were allowed to open the Santa sack. Mine was full of lollies, books, and stationery. That was it. I’ve been hooked on Santa ever since.
I still have that Santa sack and when my kids were born it would take pride of place on the mantelpiece. My husband wasn’t a fan of Christmas but over the years I have worn him down with my own excitement. Nothing better than the smell of a real tree to get you in the mood. I think having kids really helps bring the magic. When they were little my husband came up with an idea. Every year he would take them to the park to find a Christmas tree seed. They would put it in the Christmas tree holder with a little water for a few days. Then, one morning, they would wake up to find the tree had grown overnight. Magic!
My husband would get the tree and hide it until they were asleep before putting it up. I oversaw getting rid of any tell-tale pine needles. Together we would dress the tree, and, in the morning, we would wait to hear their cries of delight upon discovering the fully grown and decorated tree. Over the years other friends of ours have done the same. Even after they worked it out, our boys pretended they didn’t know just to keep the magic alive. They tell me they will do the same for their kids.
Perhaps the cause of my current attack of the Grinch is a lack of faith. It is these traditions that help us have faith. Because as George Michael said, you gotta have faith. And he died on Christmas Day, so he was clearly the reincarnation of Jesus.
Just by writing this story, I feel some excitement brewing for Christmas again. I look forward to putting Grandma’s Santa sack on the mantelpiece once more and singing some Christmas carol or George Michaels songs with the friends who are joining us this year. We might even make some crepe paper Crackers and fill them with candied almonds.
Happy Holidays everyone, no matter what your faith.
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