While it’s about time for the Christmas presents I am reminded of my own childhood deception about this event. I have always been intrigued by the traditional tale about a mythical figure coming from a remote place in the North Pole, more precisely from Finland.
Clad in red coat and trousers with white cuffs and collar, and black leather belt and boots he is depicted as the magical figure bringing gifts at Christmas for children who have behaved well during the year. This attire fits well to the figure in the land of perpetual snow; not so much though in the hot equatorial and tropical zones where he can get roasted at this time of the year. But that’s another issue.
I still remember when I was a child some decades ago. I always wondered why my brothers and I didn’t receive any gifts, while my cousins got plenty of them: dolls, toy cars and jets, flutes, balls and the rest. Like any children our age we starved for these. Had we been so bad during the year? We have been attending schools regularly, getting good marks, feeding the younger ones, helping mom with the kitchen chores and well, obeying our parents throughout.
Polish your shoes
As much naughty as we were, my cousins would proudly say that they’d polish their shoes to shine on the eve of Christmas and place them under their bed before going to sleep early. Father Christmas, as Santa Claus is often referred to, would come at around midnight and lay the gifts in the shoes. Very early the next morning they’d get up to collect their presents and rejoice.
Sandals would do
But during those times my parents were less fortunate. We didn’t even have shoes; all we had to content ourselves with was a pair of wooden sandals which we’d wear on special occasions. Better off than us, my cousins would arrogantly add to our naivety: “it doesn’t matter if you don’t have shoes, the sandals would do. But do take care to keep them clean.”
We had no reason not to believe. My uncles would confirm what they said. Better, they’d convince us that all Santa Claus needed was a pair of shoes or in default anything that could identify you at midnight; and you should behave well, be obedient to your parents. We did whatever they said.
The next morning surprise
Our heart pounded as we woke up the next morning. What could Father Christmas have left for us? We rushed to our respective sandals. They were intact, exactly in the same position as we left them the previous evening. Tears rolled off our eyes, my elder brother squeezing me against his chest; grabbing me firmly he murmured: “Don’t be disheartened Alfa, I think Santa Claus did not pass by. May be next time.”
Children don’t realize. Their parents buy those gifts and place them at the appropriate spot; and they pretend otherwise. We thought we’ve been naughty, or Father Christmas doesn’t love us, or he discriminates bringing gifts only to the more fortunate ones, not to the poor people like us.
You see, our thoughts went to the extent of nourishing all sorts of worries: why we didn’t have Father Christmas’ favour. Our parents suffered in silence, for not being able to afford even a symbolic item. How could they, with a big family, a casual job, a meager income just enough to feed the mouth?
How many children have been and are still being duped this way? Can you imagine? Children believe in everything you tell them, naïve as they are. We shouldn’t lose sight of the era we are living in. Information is accessible at the tips of our fingers. Instead of cheering them up during this period of rejoicing, we indulge in telling them lies, so much that not only do they lose their self-esteem, they develop a feeling of mistrust towards us.
Tell the truth – save the blame
If we want to put Christmas time in its true perspective with the religious significance it is associated with, if we want to be trustful to our children, and if we want them to be more respectful to this event, if we want to avoid stooping too low in their eyes, we need to re-visit our stories and adapt them to the realities of the day. Children can no longer be fooled; they know very well that there’s no such thing as the legendary figure we call Father Christmas. He is not a magician; he doesn’t manufacture toys; he doesn’t travel the world in a sleigh pulled by a reindeer. What are planes for after all?
The sad experience I encountered in my childhood has taught me lessons. I cannot fool my children. I told them the plain truth and offered them gifts at daylight, not necessarily at Christmas time. Better, I brought them to choose their own gifts at the shopping malls so that they experience the joy of a real-life event. Not one where everything seems to depend on the so-called imaginary evaluation of the mythical figure bringing toys according to his own judgement, toys they might not like at all.
With hindsight I can say that our parents were taken up in the spiral of the myth. They had no other choice than to perpetuate the story. It’s time we thought about this issue in a more realistic manner. How long are we going to maintain this false belief?
I’d be interested to know what you think about this pertinent issue at a time when we are celebrating Christmas and New Year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. May God bless.
Mauritian residing in Rodrigues, Amanoola Khayrattee (pen name Alfa King) is contributing writer and journalist to La Gazette Mag de l’océan indien and This Week News Mauritius.
Retired, former meteorological cadre, trade unionist and OSH consultant, Amanoola has written for in-house union and other journals, publications and magazines. He runs two blogs since 2007: “Alfa King Memories”, and “Le Journal d’Alfa King”. When he is not reading or writing, he is on a 10+ km daily hike in anticipation of his monthly trails.
Amanoola may be reached at [email protected].