Father Christmas

Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Père Noël, a character concocted by Coca-Cola in 1931, complete with copyright and all, yet one who dwells in the imagination of boys and girls, enduring generation after generation, often without the slightest aid from the Coca-Cola Company. What notions or sentiments lurk behind this grand little falsehood? Is it tethered to ancient solstice festivities, to Christian Christmas, or the rampant consumerism of its gifts that sustains it? Is there more? I believe so, but it’s best I elucidate my point with a memory.

My skepticism about the existence of Father Christmas, or Sata Claus as he was known where I lived, began one day in early December when my father arrived with a splendid bicycle and placed it atop the wardrobe in our hallway. My elder sister and I thought exactly the same thing upon seeing it: an unexpected reward for some good deed, though neither of us could fathom what that might be. The bicycle was sized for a child of our age, ruling out my younger sister, whose feet would not have reached the pedals. I, perpetually embroiled in school mischief and consequently at odds with my father for my steadfast refusal to do any homework, which I deemed a waste of time and a scheme specifically designed to oppress children, keeping them busy while their parents enjoyed some free time, decided the bicycle, though seemingly a boy’s, was likely intended for my sister, who did her homework and earned good grades. Days later, after a respite from homework scolding—they had forgotten to ask if any had been assigned—I inquired of my father for whom the wondrous bike was meant. He replied it was for a friend’s son, and in an instant, my sister and I abandoned our hope of claiming that splendid and marvelous object.

Swallow

Weeks passed, and my father’s friend never came to collect his son’s bicycle. What did inexorably draw nearer, though, was Christmas. Just days before its arrival, we were granted our summer holidays. One of the beauties of living in the southern hemisphere. The tedium of school and the frequent rows over undone homework ceased, and most crucially, Father Christmas was imminent. I had long since concluded that this extraordinary gentleman donned his attire because he traveled at night and at great heights in his sleigh, where it was bitterly cold. Otherwise, bundling up so when summer had arrived made no sense, especially when I spent my days in shorts and a T-shirt. In our home, as in most, gifts were opened on Christmas Day, the special moment. On Christmas Eve, there was no particular celebration, but plenty of excitement. That night, in bed, I couldn’t sleep, plagued by the thought that if I didn’t, Father Christmas wouldn’t bring me any presents. This was what our parents had always told us. But just as I was drifting off, I heard a door open and footsteps in the hallway. Then came some odd noises, and someone, who sounded like my father, left the house. Fully awake now, I wondered whether it had really been my father or that jolly old man in red, when I heard the soft voice of my sister Ximena from the next room…

“Alex, are you awake?” she whispered.

“Yes,” I whispered back.

“I think that was Dad. Shall we go see where he went?” she suggested.

“And what if it’s Santa and we end up without presents?” I replied.

“I don’t think Santa would be coming out of Mum and Dad’s room,” she retorted with such flawless logic that it dispelled any of my doubts. We rose and tiptoed into the hallway, with Ximena leading me to the bathroom. From there, if you climbed onto the sink, you could open the window and peer outside. Our house was a detached one in Villa Berlin, a very quiet residential area. But that night, through the window, we saw numerous adults carrying presents and toys down the street, our father among them. We watched him go up to a neighbor’s house and hand over the bicycle to the father of a boy we knew. In return, the man handed my father some large bags. As Dad turned back towards our home, I glanced at my sister, ready to sound the alarm, when we heard a small voice ask:

“What’s going on? Why are you looking at the street?”

It was Lely, my younger sister, who had woken up. I jumped down from the sink as we heard the gate outside open.

“Quick, we need to get back to bed,” I replied in a hushed but urgent voice.

“What’s happening? Has Santa come?” she asked.

“Not yet, but if we don’t go back to bed now, he won’t come,” Ximena told her, gently but firmly pushing her towards the bedroom as someone inserted a key into the front door and struggled to open it.

“Santa’s trying to get in!” exclaimed Lely loudly.

“Yes, and if he sees us, he won’t leave any presents,” I said. This convinced her, and the three of us ran silently back to our rooms as Dad entered the house and headed towards the living room. I got into my bed and, incredibly, fell asleep quickly.

The next morning, Ximena woke me up, shouting from the living room that Santa had come. As usual, the gifts weren’t what I had asked for, but Santa was very imaginative, and some were better than I could have imagined. Suspecting that Santa was really our parents, I looked for the boxes I saw Dad bring in, but none of the presents matched the boxes he had carried home the night before. It all seemed very strange. Could it be that what Dad brought was for other children, like the bike? In the end, I decided that it had indeed been Santa who brought my gifts, but it was clear that there was some strange connection between our father’s actions and Santa.

The next day we visited Lala, my father’s sister, who lived in an apartment in the city center. I anticipated the usual family gathering where adults only discuss tedious matters, so I started looking for something to read. While wandering, I noticed that beneath my aunt’s Christmas tree were unopened gifts.

Christmas Tree

“Lala, why haven’t you opened the presents?” I asked her.

“I had completely forgotten!” she exclaimed. “Check the names on the gifts,” she told us three, smiling. In a moment akin to a quantum leap, we were all under the Christmas tree, scrutinizing the names on the presents. There was a huge box labeled “Alex.” I opened it to discover a firefighter truck that could be dismantled, and it even came with tools to do so! I was amazed.

“Thank you so much, Lala!” I said, thrilled with the gift.

“It wasn’t me. Father Christmas left it here,” she replied.

“Why did he leave it at your house?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know. I’ve never met Father Christmas personally, so I couldn’t ask him. Maybe he got the address wrong.”

My eight-year-old mind shifted into overdrive, realizing that my aunt gave such answers when she didn’t want to reply directly. There was the possibility that she did know Santa Claus, but that would make her a superwoman with extraordinary powers, and I had never seen any evidence of that. The second option was that Santa had made some kind of mistake in his toy distribution process. But the likelihood of a man with the power to distribute toys all over the world in one night making such a mistake seemed very slim. If he had gotten the address wrong, my firefighter truck could have ended up at any house on the planet, but no, it ended up at my aunt’s house. The most feasible possibility was that Santa Claus did not exist.

Valley with a small river.

Time passed. To be precise, a year, and on Christmas Eve, I persuaded my sister Ximena to join me in hiding in the bathtub after our parents had gone to bed. I sought definitive proof that Santa Claus was, in fact, our parents. But after a lengthy vigil, absolutely nothing happened, and we began to stiffen from our cramped position in the tub. We emerged and, just in case, ventured to the living room to see if Santa had already left the toys. After all, a magical being needn’t be noisy; perhaps he had come and gone without our notice. But a cursory glance confirmed it was as it always was. We lingered there a while, whispering about how he might enter our house since we lacked a chimney like in the films, and concluded that he probably possessed some sort of master key that could open any door. By then, sleepiness was setting in, and Ximena decided to head to bed. But I was not about to miss the chance to discover whether Santa Claus was real or not, so I devised a trap.

The front door of our house opened into a small hallway. To the left, it led to the bathroom and bedrooms, and to the right, there were three steps down to the kitchen, which was on the right. A few centimeters further, the hallway ended in the living-dining room. My Santa-snaring trap involved taking a small pot and tying it with a string about ten centimeters off the ground from the kitchen to one of the sofa legs in the living room. This way, when Santa passed by, he would push the string and the pot would make noise. After setting it up, I remembered that I was a heavy sleeper and the sound of a pot dragging on the floor wouldn’t wake me. So, very carefully, I began to stack all the pots I could find on top of the small pot, finishing with a pressure cooker at the pinnacle. The string was taut and the cookware balanced precariously, so I went to bed. I tried to stay awake as long as possible, but soon fell into a deep sleep.

Bang! Crash! Followed by someone shouting — “DAMN IT!”

I woke up with a start, but instead of rushing out to see Santa, I stayed in my bed, terrified at the thought that one of the most powerful beings on the planet was angry with me. But then I heard —”But who the hell…?”— in my father’s voice, and at that moment, I had no doubt that Santa Claus was, indeed, our parents. I lay back, relieved that it was my father who would scold me the next day, rather than having a superbeing mad at me. When I got up, everything was tidy, the toys were under the tree, and my father never said anything about it.

Realizing Santa Claus didn’t exist brought a significant sense of loss, but on the other hand, I admired the adults’ ability to maintain a lie. A lie that had brought me happiness for many years.

And so, we circle back to the beginning of this tale, for I believe there is indeed something more to concepts like Santa Claus than feasting, drinking, and buying gifts. Especially when these superbeings resolve matters or situations beyond our comprehension. And I don’t mean on an individual level, but as a species. I assert this even though, for me, Santa Claus, Thor, Zeus, or Jehovah are all on the same plane. Mythological beings that at certain times have been, or are, vital in sustaining the hope that something better than our given lives might exist. I say this despite my firm belief that if there are things in life that are difficult, problematic, or harsh, what one ought to do is unite with others of similar mind and collectively work to change them. For everything else, we have science, which aids us in understanding; and when understanding is achieved, magic ceases to exist and transforms into knowledge. Science is our great and significant triumph.

However, as a storyteller, I see that there is one thing science cannot do, and that is to find in the universe any trace of love or hope. Two elements that are not scientifically proven. It doesn’t matter whether you use the most advanced particle accelerator or the most powerful multifrequency telescope. You won’t find them there either. But can you imagine a life devoid of love or hope? Two things that, if asked, science would declare unreal since they cannot be demonstrated. They are almost akin to Santa Claus – merely an emotion, an idea that cannot be proven. If I must choose between an efficient, realistic world that denies love and hope and another filled with fantasy where they exist, I choose the latter.

Science is crucial and should always be the yardstick by which we measure things, but the Santa Clauses of this world deceive us, allowing us to relish small things as if they were grand wonders, opening the door to love and hope. This, in turn, fuels our energy to continue forward, measuring with science. This is not to say you should continue believing in Santa Claus, Thor, Allah, Zeus, or Jehovah The Almighty, but rather to enjoy these little lies, knowing they are just that – lies, stories, tales – and appreciate them just as much as the storytellers who bring them to you. 😉

Happy Winter’s Solstice!!

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Alejandro Ahumada Escritor, podcaster y Administrador de sistemas informáticos
Alejandro Ahumada ha navegado su vida entre cambios y constancias, desde los cerros de Valparaíso hasta los valles de Cantabria. A causa de la persecución política de la dictadura de Pinochet, se exilió con su madre a los trece años, encontrando refugio en el Reino Unido. Su travesía incluye Escocia, Nottingham, Dublín, Francia y Euskadi, hasta asentarse en Cantabria con su esposa, sus hijos y su gata, Déjà Vu. Ingeniero informático de profesión, Alejandro equilibra la lógica con la creatividad. Como escritor de relatos de fantasía y ciencia ficción, sus historias han sido descritas como "Realismo Mágico Personal". Inspirado por autores como Gaiman, Allende, Pratchett y Le Guin, su escritura convierte la vida en un lienzo mágico, donde cada experiencia revela la magia oculta en lo cotidiano.