Another Christmas to reaffirm the joys of family, of fellowship, and the individual bonds between us that form those threads from which the whole fabric of human society is woven.
I thank you for your support and friendship over this past year, and wish you every happiness and comfort for the year that is to come.
As a gesture of goodwill, I attach a very short Christmas story I wrote some years ago: A Last Nowell. It’s very much drawn from the life, and is one of the pieces included in Growing Up & Other Stories, the very first eBook I successfully published this year.
I hope you like it, and accept my warmest good wishes for the Season and 2014.
A Last Nowell
We passed another milestone on the journey to growing up, the other night.
It was bedtime. And after the evening story her mother said, 'Your daughter wants to ask you something.'
Please God, I thought, let it not be How Are Babies Made? Not just yet. I am not ready for it, and she is only eight. Give us another year or two before we pass from the broad picture to the details. ('Yes, I know they come from mummy's tummy, but how do they get there?')
The fair hair on the pillow, the chin resting on the bedclothes. A smile, that is part flirt and part innocence, playing around her lips.
'What is it?'
'Daddy,' she says, 'is there really a Father Christmas?'
There was a time when I would have said, 'Of course there is, everybody knows that!' Without thinking twice, for the dreams will go soon enough. But somewhere along the paths of childhood, this past year, that time had slipped by. Where or when I could not tell. Or had it? Perhaps, I thought, it might still be found again.
'Why do you ask?'
'I just wondered. The girls at school said...'
Oh, yes. That time had gone. And before long it will be the other. The girls at school say all kinds of things of which they know very little, don't they?
'And then there was this card to post to Santa. It says printed by somebody in Tasmania, on the bottom.'
She is smart, at least. Santa Claus may try to be all things to all people, but he is not yet in the printing and publishing business, not so far as I know.
'Besides, he couldn't read all those postcards could he? Not in Tasmania.'
The doubts are alive in her eyes.
'Do you really want to know?'
So I sit on the bed and think back to the time when, at about the same age, I asked the same question of my own father. It was at the Christmas Dinner table. He leaned back in his chair wondering, as I am now, if the truth will hurt too much. And then he said, most gently, 'All boys and girls have their own Father Christmas.'
I can hear the words again. But more than that, I remember struggling to grasp their meaning: my reason trying to overcome the remnants of belief, and to accept what it already knew to be so. And it did not hurt. Not all that much.
'What do you mean?' she asks, when I have repeated my father's words. Her voice told of the same conflict, inside.
'I mean that every mother and father has to be Santa Claus to their own children.'
'I thought so.'
Growing up. Her mother sitting on the other side of the bed.
But that doesn't mean we won't still do the same things. We'll still hang up our pillowcases on Christmas Eve, and put out the glass of milk for Santa because he's sure to be thirsty.
We'll still cut the Christmas tree and decorate it with streamers and tinsel, and put the angel with the floppy head on top. And we'll still sing the carols, Away In A Manger and The First Nowell, for the season of love and goodwill.
We'll still do these things, even though we know now, because ... well, because they are part of the bond between us. And after breakfast on Christmas morning, we'll hand out the parcels that have been placed around the tree with the winking lights. They may not have been brought by Santa, but the truth is not everything. Some matters are more important.
'Yes,' she says, 'I thought so. I didn't think there could be so many Santas. The men in the shops are all dressed up, aren't they?'
'With so many girls and boys in the world, he couldn't visit them all on the same night by himself, could he?'
'No, not even with flying reindeer.'
'So I suppose the mothers and fathers have to deliver the presents for him.'
'Something like that.'
She was thinking it through.
'Father Christmas makes all the toys, and the people have to give them to their children for him. Is that right?'
'More or less.' I begin to retreat.
'I'm glad you told me. It's what the girls at school said.'
I tell myself that I am not the first, nor will I be the last, parent to have got it wrong.
And then turn out the light.
© Anthony Hill 1999, 2013