Picture by Gordon Bridger (double click to enlarge)
This lovely seasonal picture was taken by my uncle, who lives in Guildford. It was snapped in the High Street during a snowfall recently.
As a little girl I too used to leave biscuits and a glass of sherry for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and would eye up the fireplace thinking how lucky it was that in Temperley where I lived (Buenos Aires, Argentina) it was too hot in December to think about lighting fires the way they seemed to be depicted in Christmas cards that came from England and North America. Santa would have definitely got his bottom burnt to a crisp – though I don’t remember wondering how he got his bottom down the chimney in the first place.
I was however puzzled by the pretty pictures on the cards and why there seemed to be so much cotton wool around...
Year after year I tried – how I tried! – to stay awake to hear the scrape of his sleigh on the roof and the merry jingle of the bells, to see in the gloom the apple-cheeked old gentleman with silver beard lower the heavy sack off his back with a sigh, then pull things out of it to leave by the tree. The prospect of it made me feel tense with excitement, but even toothpicks would not have kept my eyes open. I would wake up the following morning with my sister calling me “Hurry up! Get up! He’s been!” chagrined to realise that my eyes had let me down yet again. I’d look at the empty plate with biscuit crumbs still in it, and sniff the glass that had once held sherry, dismayed that I had been so near and yet so far.
My Italian granny, who lived in town, once took me to see him at Harrods department store in the smartest shopping area of Buenos Aires – I had to wear my best clothes and the little beige coat with dark brown velvet round the collar – but they couldn’t fool me. For a start this little man clearly had that cotton wool stuff on his head and round his chin, and he spoke SPANISH! Everyone knew that God, Santa and the Tooth Fairy were English, goodness knows why they had gone to the trouble of creating a massive conspiracy that a child as young as me could see through straight away. He was a total fake, and I treated him with the disdain he deserved by refusing to accept any presents from him.
In 1962 when I was 8 years old I came home from school one day, very perturbed by something one of my school mates had told me. Mum was feeding washing into the upright Hoover washing machine – the one whose mangle scared me because I’d watch the sheets disappearing into its maw, emerging the other side creased and barely damp, and imagine it was my arm...and that the water pouring out was my blood...
“Monica says Santa Claus doesn’t exist” I said. “What does she mean?”
“Oh...” replied my mother carefully, pushing her hair back with a tired hand, “what did she say exactly?”
“She said there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. And she laughed at me!”
“Well, he does exist in a way – he’s in all of us. You’ll see when you’re older.”
“In all of us”?? “In a way”?? “No, I want to know if there’s a fat man in a red suit and white beard and his sleigh and his reindeer and his sack of presents and things.”
“Yes of course, he’s there in spirit and...”
“What do you mean his spirit?” (Brainwave!) “And anyway he eats the biscuits and drinks the sherry, I’ve seen the crumbs and...”
Mum straightened up and looked at me “No, creech-oh, that’s Daddy. We put out the presents and he has the biscuits and sherry. So you see, he’s Santa, isn’t he?”
I stormed off into the back garden and sat on the swing. I didn’t feel hurt, forlorn, misinformed... I was absolutely furious. I was in a towering rage. I remembered the silly little man at Harrods. They were all in on it. It was indeed a big conspiracy.
From then on Christmas presents were never quite the same. In the past I hadn't needed to forgive Santa for not getting it quite right because after all he didn’t really know me. Now this spoilt child could - and did - convey disapproval merely by sulking if necessary. Very soon the presents ceased to be surprises because my parents would ask me what I would like, and if they felt the request was reasonable, took me shopping with them to make sure they got the right thing. The final phase was when they eventually gave me the money to go and buy them myself.
Many years later in England at a dinner party, the lady of the house informed us that she and her husband had told their children from the very beginning that there were no Santas or tooth fairy; she felt it wasn’t fair to “cheat” children into believing they existed. I hadn’t thought about it again until this point, and I found myself strongly disagreeing with her. She had not only robbed her children of the gift of belief in its purest form and thereby the ability to be carried away by their imagination, but had also ensured that they in turn would rob it of all their contemporaries. I felt fury again, but from the opposite camp.
I never had children myself, and much regret not having been able to pass on my fantasy world to the next generation. I would not want to live in a world where childish wonder is not encouraged, and childhood beliefs and dreams are frowned upon. It has been disappointing enough to learn as an adult that Santa Claus was not originally an English tradition, and that the customary genial and colourful view of Santa Claus in a red coat and white beard in fact came from a very old Coca Cola advertisement.
Maybe it’s just a way of wanting to stay within the safe boundaries of a happy childhood.
Uncle Gordon as Santa Claus, my sister Sylvia and her daughter,
my niece Veronica, looking apprehensive because she
was meeting Santa Claus for the first time.
My ex husband standing behind.
Taken in the early 80's.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Photo Finish -
From Lonicera's non-digital archive
More of Valencia and its countryside at Christmas
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