Ho ho bleeding' ho ....
It makes me smile when we teach our children how bad it is to tell lies, then proceed to tell them that on one particular night in the year, a rosy cheeked fat man wearing a red velvet suit, will slip effortlessly down our chimney in order to leave them a present or two provided they've been well behaved for pretty much the whole of the year!
It's lies and bribery rolled into one!
We tell ourselves that it's for their own little bit of magic, to bring a bit of sparkle to the festivities but at the end of the day, it is basically a fib of whopping proportions. Of course, I for one absolutely loved the idea of Santa Claus shinning his way back up the chimney or, even better, waking up and catching him in the act of leaving presents at the end of my bed.
I remember one Christmas many years ago when my brother and I were sharing a bedroom (I guess I must have been about 7, him about 3) and we awoke to oddly shaped pillowcases at the foot of our beds.
We set about opening them up before our parents woke up and I remember feeling ever so slightly deflated when my first present was a Fisher Price camera and his first present was a cool looking sports car with a boat on a trailer. This continued for a couple more pressies before our Mum heard my wailing and made excuses while swapping pillowcases.
"Santa" must've had too much "special milk" and got the bags mixed up!
What a laugh.
Roll forward to about 5 years ago and myself, M and a 2-and-a-bit year old Joseph are heading to Covent Garden to visit Father Christmas in the enormous hollow tree (made out of scaffold but still very effective) they had put up that week.
The look on his little face as he was confronted by the mystical St Nick I will never, ever forget. It was a mixture of fear and amazement with a little bit of trust thrown in for good measure and he edged his way toward the open hand of Santa (who was being played by a rather skinny chap in Dennis Taylor style snooker glasses), but who was a very kind sounding Father Christmas.
We have the most wonderful picture of this meeting (even though it is permanently damaged - boo hoo - read here for why) and it brings back the best memories. I got outside that fake tree in Covent Garden, it was dark, it was cold and it was all I could do to not blub like a baby in front of the "collect your picture here" booth.
The point to all this is that that meeting, that first ever encounter with St Nicholas stayed with Joseph for several years. It might still be there somewhere for all I know although he doesn't refer to it any more but I remember feeling warmth and gratitude towards the stranger in the red suit for making the wonder of Santa a reality for Joseph.
Roll forward another couple of years to yesterday and in one of hundreds of Christmas fairs up and down the country, another random individual playing Santa Claus was getting changed into his outfit and applying his make up.
Only this individual had never been Santa before and was quite nervous, even though he had been looking forward to it.
The reason I know all this is because that individual was me. I had been asked a few weeks back and as soon as my colleagues approached me, I remembered the Santa in the Covent Garden tree. Skinny he may have been but he (and his grotto) had conjured up enough magic to get my son through his early years - if he could do it, so could I.
After whiting out my eyebrows a bit, a dab of rouge on my cheeks and nose, padding tied round my waist, newly made suit climbed into, white wig on, beard on, hat on, glasses on, wellies on et voilà, one Father Christmas open for business.
M and I had discussed that the children wouldn't visit Santa until my shift was over (3 hours later) but approximately 2 hours in, they wanted to see the man himself.
I figured it would be the ultimate test so I gave the nod to one of my fairy helpers and in they came.
At first I wasn't sure if Joseph was fooled, although Annabel seemed to be buying it, looking embarrassed and avoiding eye contact which suited me fine!
I got her to sit next to me and Joseph to stand on my other side and carried on in my voice that was a cross somewhere between the Major from Fawlty Towers and Ronnie Corbett in Sorry! It seemed to be working even if M was barely containing her hysterics!!
You know what? It bloody well worked!!! They left happy, waving their wrapped presents and out they went. It wasn't until half an hour later that I regretted not having taken a picture of the three of us.
So we called them back, gave them some story about Santa forgetting to take a picture for his scrapbook, sat them down again and said 'cheese'.
So here, for the first time ever on these pages, is a picture of my children and myself (I've tweaked their features slightly). If you ever meet us in the street however, remember, they have no idea!!!
Help me keep it that way.
It's me, your old Dad - I was Santa at the Christmas fair and you never had a clue - it was the best feeling!!!!!
Happy advent to you both!