Christmas Overtime: a Vignette
It is Christmas again, of course it is, and a full-stop has been placed quite deliberately, like a glacé cherry, at the end of the year. This time, though, you are excluded from the festivities. You have lost the chance to eat, drink and make Mary. Christmas is red rotund, noble and inane, but you are not. You cannot spill the cream of indulgence down the shirt-front of success. You cannot laugh when neighbours toast your health with your own Malt. You cannot choke on the wishbone of convention.
So now you decide to cut through the season with a serrated truth. You decide to fight back. There is no goodwill to all men, at least none without an ulterior motive, and you will tear away this canvas of delusion and expose the facts as they are, a process as painful as the breaking of a tooth on a sixpence concealed in a pudding.
But how can you do it? Is there anything you can do? You ponder this over. Yes, there is one thing. There is one balloon you can burst before its time, one cracker you can defuse, one fairy-light you can ground to coloured glass.
His door is ajar. You peer through the crack. His eyes are open. They are large and moist and round. You almost falter before taking the fateful step, but then, sudden intoxicating courage overwhelming, you push forward.
You enter without knocking. He turns towards you and smiles. There is unaffected joy in his smile. There is excitement intolerable. His stocking hangs large and empty. The tree in the corner winks its tiny lights. You are not what he is waiting for, but it is early yet. The hands of the clock pass very slowly.
Good evening, you say, and the awkward pause threatens to drown your resolution, drown it in his large, moist, round eyes. But you are still drunk with purpose. So with a breath as deep as a snowdrift, you continue.
There is no Father Christmas, you announce, savouring the effect of these negative words. There is no Father Christmas and no reindeer sleigh. There is no such bulky benefactor, and thus no hand in a fur-trimmed glove to fill your stocking.
And, of course, he bursts into tears. You are a liar, he wails, and yet as he voices these words, he knows in his heart that you are right and that his dreams are gossamer webs, baubles to be trampled underfoot, pine-needles to be shaken loose and swept away.
And triumphant, you close the door and return to your desk, while the sobs of your boss echo through the deserted office.
The Precious Mundanity
After the boy was tucked up snugly in bed, the mother kissed his forehead but she didn’t turn to leave. Then the boy said, “I’m so excited about tomorrow I don’t think I’ll ever get to sleep!”
She smiled at him and patted the sheets, but her face was sad. “There’s something I need to tell you,” she said.
His eyes widened in response. “You don’t mean I’m not adopted?”
“Don’t be silly.” She laughed. “Why would I lie about that? You’ve always known my husband isn’t your real father. No, it’s something else. You’re seven years old now and it’s time you learned the truth.”
“I don’t understand, mother,” he answered.
She sighed and regarded the simple bedroom. They were a poor family and lived in a very modest house in a shabby town. Outside, the sun had already set, but the sky still held enough light to illuminate the people trudging up the dusty street. A donkey began braying and kicking a clay wall; elsewhere the tradesmen and merchants were shutting their shops. A pale moon rose over the low hills. A normal evening.
“It’s about Christmas,” she said.
He was sitting up in bed now, blinking at her. “Yes?”
“Father Christmas in particular…”
His eyes lit up at the mention of this name. “Last year he brought me a toy boat and the year before that he gave me a ball and the year before that…” He caught his breath and added, “I can’t wait to see what he’ll give me tomorrow!”
She placed a finger over his lips and shook her head. “That’s exactly what I must tell you. Father Christmas doesn’t actually exist. It’s your father who brings you those gifts. Your real father. That’s the truth.”
“What?” He was distraught. “You mean there’s no such thing as Santa Claus? The jolly fat man in red with a sack over his shoulder is just a myth? A lie?”
“I’m afraid so. Your father pretends to be him.”
“My father? My real father? The supernatural force that created the universe? The omniscient, omnipotent lord of everything? Oh mother! You’ve turned Christmas into a magical occasion. You’ve destroyed the mundanity of it! The precious mundanity! I’ll never forgive you for this. Never!”
“My poor son,” She reached out to hug him close to her, but he pounded his little fists against her and then fell back on the bed and turned on his side. She spoke to his bristling back. “I’m sorry to break the news this way. Santa Claus is from the future, you see. That’s why your father keeps up the pretence. Even Christmas hasn’t been invented yet!”
But it was no use. He wasn’t listening. She rose and quietly left Jesus sobbing into his pillow.