"Some people at school," says Anne, eyeing me slyly over the box of Christmas decorations, "say that it's your mother and father who do it."
"Do what?" I ask,
innocently - as if I didn't know.
"They say, persists my eldest daughter, "that there isn't really a Father Christmas at all, that parents just pretend there is."
She regards me expectantly; any minute now she will ask me outright and I shall have to tell her the truth. Last year she hovered just the other side of disbelief; this year sees the end of the legend for Anne.
"Well, IS there?" she demands, her teasing smile indicating that she already has more than an inkling what my answer will be. After all it is a bit much for an enquiring eight year old to swallow; that one, rather stout, obviously
ageing genetleman with a flamboyant feel for fashion and a clever, if not particularly practical, answer to rising petrol prices, manages to deliver in a single night all manner of parcels to every child in the country.
And if all the presents which bulge out of their father's football socks on a Christmas morning really do come from Santa's sack of plenty, then why is it that they are all wrapped up in the paper we bought from the local newsagent's
because it seemed a bargain at the price? It is high time, Anne thinks, that I came clean about Christmas.
She is right, of course - but I am still reluctant to confess. Anne is growing up, I have
to admit; even her attitude to Christmas presents is changng. It is one thing to try to impress on a child that it is better to give than receive - but with so much going on for the young ones in the festive season, it is quite another to make the argument
sound convincing. Anne appears to have got the message at last and has spent the past month making knitted coat-hangers. Everyone we know is getting a padded hanger from Anne.
I happend to read the
accompanying letter she wrote to her grandmother. It breezed the utmost confidence in the suitability of her gift. "Here is the present I have made for you. It is a lovely present and I am sure you will like it."
"Don't you think you ought to explain to her that people don't generally say that sort of thing?" her father asked me but I was adamant. It made such a refreshing change, I felt, from the normal diffidence with which we offer our presents - "just
a little something", "nothing very grand, I'm afraid," or, worst of all, "you can always change it if you don't like it" - all sentiments of whch I have been as guilty as anyone at times.
is awaiting my answer. I think I make quite a good job of it, explaining why parents like to surround Christmas with a certain mystery in the comfortably well-padded shape of Santa Claus - and asking her at the same time if she will share the secret with us
and not spoil it for the little ones.
I hardly have time to finish before Anne breaks in: "Oh, Mummy, I am so GLAD!"
It isn't at all the reaction
I expected. Can it be - awful thought - that she has been frightened all these years at the thought of our strange nocturnal visitor?
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"I'm so glad, she breathes ecstatically, "That I know the secret too..."
It occurs to me that perhaps that is why the legend survives in these matter of fact times - because those in the secret
gain even more pleasure from it than the children for whom they spin the yarn.
Now every time one of the younger children brings up the subject of Christmas Eve, I know I will see Anne grinning hugely
at me across the room, a delightfully conspiratorial gleam in her eyes.
"There's one thing I'm wondering about," she tells me, "If you and Daddy pretend about Christmas Eve, then how does the stardust
get left on the plate we put out for Father Christmas's supper?"
I coudl have produced, as damning evidence of my deception, the tube of silver glitter - 7p from the local stationer's and now carefully
hidden in a kitchen cupboard.
"Aha!" I say, mysteriously.
Well, why should I give away ALL my secrets?
Slough Evening Mail: December 1974