Grant Woodward: Santa saturation proves a test of belief

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NO ONE ever thinks of the parents during the festive season, do they? Here we are, trying our best to keep the magic alive by maintaining our children’s belief in Father Christmas for as long as possible (my wife has set her sights, somewhat unrealistically, on the age of 10) and the rest of the world is determined to make it as difficult as possible.

It was so much easier when I was growing up, for the simple reason that there only ever seemed to be one Santa doing the rounds. On the last Saturday before Christmas week, my sister and I would be taken to the local department store, instructed to sit on his knee (a strict no-no these days of course) and forced to engage in shy, stilting conversation.

After a couple of minutes we would each be rewarded with a gaudily-wrapped gift with “boy” and “girl” scrawled on them respectively and then pushed blinking back into the brightly-lit womenswear department. And that would be the last we saw of the big man for another 12 months, although we knew he’d be paying us a visit on Christmas Eve to leave us a Buck Rogers outfit and a Girl’s World.

What most certainly didn’t happen was that we kept bumping into Santa everywhere we went, thus making us question how exactly he could be making a list and checking it twice, never mind getting all those presents together, when he was busy making more public appearances than Posh and Becks.

We popped into the supermarket the other day with our children and there he was, sitting on top of a Rotary Club float while Wizzard blared out of the tinny speakers beneath him. As we walked past he stepped off (I suspect for a cigarette break) and exchanged a few perfunctory words with the children before telling me how he once did this in New Zealand and “nearly boiled to death” in his suit. I swiftly wished him a merry Christmas and ushered my children through the sliding doors before any more damage could be done.

A friend was placed in an even stickier spot last week when his daughter went to two Christmas parties in one day – and Santa put in an appearance at both.

“When the second one asked her all over again what she wanted for Christmas she began to smell a rat,” he told me wearily, a man clearly struggling to hold back the tide. “I just had to tell her that Santa’s getting on a bit and his memory isn’t what it was.”

His omnipresence aside, it doesn’t help either that each time we see him, Father Christmas has somehow managed to morph from tall to short, fat to thin and from young and old. The only constants are the scratchy white beard and red suit. And even they vary greatly in believability.

Last weekend we took our children – three-year-old twins – on their official visit to Father Christmas (as opposed to the ones where he just happens to be in the same vicinity as us).

Thankfully, unlike last year’s debacle, they didn’t tell him about their potty training on Christmas morning, but neither were they forthcoming about the presents they did want.

Eventually Santa (a decent one – kindly, old, not too tall and in a suit that had actually been cleaned since last year) managed to elicit “dinosaur” and “dolly” out of them – neither of which they had mentioned previously in a clear bid to saddle us with some last-minute shopping. There was time for a few photographs and a couple of thank yous, which as usual had to be crowbarred out of the pair of them.

“Did you like Father Christmas?” my wife asked them as we came out.

“Yes,” nodded my son.

“He was different,” said my daughter.

“How do you mean?”

“He was a different Father Christmas to last time,” she said matter-of-factly.

It might have been the wind, but I swear I saw a tear form in my wife’s eye.

The next day, the children went to a Christmas party and guess who was there again? Talk about overkill, at this point they have become so saturated by Santa visits that they didn’t even bother mentioning it.

My wife’s target for suspending their disbelief? It looks like she’ll miss it by just the seven years.