It has started – Elsa officially understands that Santa is the man to butter up at this time of year and, as I imagine she will do with us when she’s older and needs to borrow cash, she’s suddenly decided to pay him a great deal of attention.
I’m really keen on the Santa story, I know some parents choose to be straight with their children, but the magic the big fella in the red suit brings is part of what makes Christmas great. Plus, I quite often tell her white lies for my own benefit so why not peddle one that she’ll actually enjoy? I hadn’t really lost the remote control the other day, I just didn’t want to watch Mr. Tumble again – surely the annual gift-giving jamboree makes up for that.
We took her to see Father Christmas in his grotto this year and it was an eye-opening experience to say the least. Having joined the queue, the “elf” popped out to say there would be a short delay as St. Nick had to “feed the reindeer”. I figured this was either a euphemism for him needing a wee (Santa wees!) or there being a Santa shift-swap on the cards. Either way, I figured there would be no problem waiting as it would either take the length of time he needed to urinate (even after a few sherries that’s not too long) or it would be like a substitution in football and he’d high five his replacement, who would run back to the grotto, spit on the floor, cross himself and take the seat to continue with the Santa-ing.
That did not happen.
We waited for twenty minutes (I timed it – not that I regularly time other people’s toilet activities, of course). Yes, you heard correctly, we waited for twenty minutes in a queue of excitable but hugely restless children. Was he insane? Have you attempted to stay in one place for any amount of time with a two-year-old who is keen to demand a rotund fella brings her an “ojinge scooter” (sic)? This could be added to the list of toddler-based punishments for offenders.
It got worse. When we were eventually ushered in to the room, he barely spoke to Elsa, instead seeming more interested in expressing surprise we’d brought such a young child to see him. Surely as her parents, we are better judges of what she wants and understands than a stranger who possibly takes nearly half an hour to empty his bladder. Not that that would affect his judgement, but it’s worth mentioning again.
In addition, within seconds he was trying to usher us out without offering Elsa a present. When we asked for one, he grunted, “we don’t have any for someone her age”. We eventually negotiated a gift for our little girl, but I’m certain that’s not how it should all work.
It was one of those Round Table/Rotary/Lions type things, which encourage local businesspeople to volunteer for charity and they were raising funds to install defibrillators around the town, which is a great cause and so important, but even if you are giving your time for free, playing Santa requires professionalism of the highest standard. You can’t mess around with kids’ experiences of Father Christmas, it’s too important to them and older ones will remember that for a long time. Elsa probably won’t, which is just as well. Charity is not an excuse for delivering a below-par performance – if you can’t do it properly then don’t bother, it’s too precious a myth to ruin.
Thankfully, a week later we took Elsa to a garden centre near Bingley (which, as everyone knows, is Father Christmas’ actual home), and it couldn’t have been more different. There was organisation, stuff to do while waiting, we had plenty of time with the main man and a really thoughtful gift too. Of course, a garden centre is a commercial operation and it is in their interests to keep their customers happy, but that should be the case for anyone wanting to use such an icon as St Nicholas to raise cash, whether it is for profit or for the greater good.