I’m home now, and I do not expect to venture out again until the 27th December, if even then. I’m exaggerating somewhat. I will cross the threshold tonight to visit friends who live in the flat downstairs, to toast the season with a glass of wine and some roasted chestnuts. It is entirely possible that at some point over the next few days I will go out to the park to stretch my legs, breathe fresh air out of doors, and partake of the splendid bit of wildness that is Arthur’s Seat. And we will have company on Christmas Day, to share a meal and exchange gifts.
But I am adamant about Christmas Eve: it is unsullied by any contact with shops or last-minute spending – if I’ve not sorted it out by the 23rd then it is too late. Christmas Eve remains blocked off in my calendar – it belongs to me and E at home, baking biscuits and working a jigsaw puzzle, listening to Vince Guaraldi or John Denver & the Muppets, reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas! or The Box of Delights. I do like the Grinch, with his bitter cunning and his heart two sizes too small, bursting its seams nonetheless when all the Who’s down in Whoville join hands in their circle to welcome Christmas with joyful singing.
On Christmas Eve, after E has gone to bed in all her buzzing anticipation, I bring out the wrapping paper and gifts, I make myself some hot chocolate dosed generously with Southern Comfort, and I turn on Gram Parsons. Gram’s been the soundtrack to my Christmas Eve since 1999, the music that signals a small respite to the season’s mayhem, a few hours to myself sipping my drink and playing with paper and ribbon, pulling everything together for the morning’s drama.
During E’s early childhood years, I took great pains to hide my tracks where Father Christmas was concerned: I’d eat the biscuits she’d left out and would leave a messy litter of crumbs on the plate, I’d reply to her letter to Santa with the same disguised handwriting used on the parcel tags, I’d even eat the carrots she’d provided for the reindeer, leaving only the chewed-looking ends to spark her imagination.
When she was about 6 years old, she started to ask me if Santa Claus was real. The rumours in the primary school playground had reached her ears and planted doubt – there were those among her peers who claimed that it was just the parents, pretending. What do you think? I’d respond. Why might he not be real?
At first she accepted this noncommittal reply; she didn’t want to let go of the story of Father Christmas and so she didn’t pursue the point too hard. But over the next few years, she grew more assertive in her demand for a solution to the mystery. Still I didn’t resolve it for her one way or the other. I batted her questions neatly back over the net to her: Do you think it could be me? What makes you think so? Gather your evidence, think for yourself, use your eyes and your mind, trust your own judgment – answer this question for yourself.
I wanted her to learn something I hadn’t realised for myself until much later in my life, something I still haven’t got a firm grip on by any means, as it works against the grain that was laid so deeply in me by my own upbringing. Trust your own judgment. It’s as worthy as anyone else’s.
I relaxed the performance, made less effort, and she began to observe that Santa’s handwriting looked like mine, that the paper he used to wrap presents was of the same design as the paper we’d used to wrap presents for Dad and Granny and others. She lay down this evidence with mounting annoyance at my truculence, until finally when she was eight or nine she declared with scorn, It’s just you!
You’re right, I admitted, it’s just me. So now she knows to trust her own judgment – to spot inconsistency and to challenge falsehoods.
Our next lesson will be to reclaim that belief in magic, and to join in the circle with the rest of the Who’s.