I liked Christmas best when my kids were little. Lauren and Jess just loved Christmas, though they were a lot different to the ones I had in London. Here the seasons are reversed; Australia can get very hot in December. Some days it can get very hot indeed.
Like the day I had to dress up as Santa for the kid’s Christmas party.
Even in these times of equal opportunity, mothers strongly prefer Santa to be a man, and that year it was my turn. As I put the girls to bed the night before the big event, I told them: ‘Father Christmas will be coming to the party tomorrow.’
Jess clapped her hands, delighted. ‘Will he be coming on the back of his sleigh?’
‘Well no … he’s coming in your mum’s car.’
”But will he be bringing us presents?’ Lauren asked me.
Jess’s suspicions were aroused. ‘Why is he giving us presents tomorrow? Is he trying to get out of bringing presents on Christmas Eve?’
‘He’ll bring you presents on Christmas Eve as well.’
Lauren wouldn’t let it drop. ‘Where does he get the money to buy all these presents?’
‘He doesn’t buy them. The elves make them.’
‘What elves?’ Jess asked.
‘There’s two of them,’ Lauren explained to her, this being her obligation as older sister. ‘They’re called Fisher and Price. Anyway, I don’t believe in elves. Jamie Burridge said Santa gets all the presents himself from the shops, same as everyone else. He’s got a platinum Visa with a really big limit. That’s why he’s coming to the party in mum’s car. Last year he had to sell the reindeer to pay back the banks.’
They grow up so fast.
|Christmas in Australia
The next day I got dressed for my role. I put on a fur-lined Santa suit, fur lined hood, fur lined gloves, fur-lined boots and fur-lined beard. The temperature outside was one hundred and three degrees.
Some of the mothers popped by the house to see how preparations were going. Being fairly long and lean, my appearance was not to their entire satisfaction.
‘Needs pillows,’ one of them said.
Five pillows later they still weren’t happy. ‘Still not fat enough,’ another said. ‘My husband would be perfect but he’s at work.’
So they stuffed another couple of pillows up the front and finally pronounced themselves satisfied. ‘There do you think he needs anything else?’ my wife said.
‘A glass of water,’ I said.
On the radio the announcer said it was the hottest December day for nineteen years.
The hall they had hired for the party was not air-conditioned. Santa had to wait in the stuffy little kitchen while small children were rounded up. By now his little cheeks were indeed red as a cherry, but from heat exhaustion, not because of any merry disposition.
My wife gave me my final briefing. ‘The kids have pulled all the crackers and eaten all the little pink sausages. Now they’ve started fighting with each other. You’d better get in there and distract them.’
Ringing my little bell and groaning a few muffled ‘ho-ho-ho’s’ I staggered into the hall. The children shrieked and ran to their mothers. Two were so overcome they left little puddles in the middle of the floor. Santa Claus is all very well on Christmas cards but in the flesh kids are terrified. They’d rather sit on Freddy Kruger’s lap.
Their distress was short lived. It was so hot Santa passed out half a dozen presents then passed out himself.
I heard all about it later from Lauren.
‘He’s not really all that fat,’ she said. ‘He’s just got all these pillows stuffed up his jacket, like the ones on the sofa.’
‘Is that so?’
‘And I don’t think he’s as nice as everyone says, either.’
‘And why is that?’
‘He fell on the floor and all the mums had to carry him into the kitchen. He kept saying he wanted a beer and said some nasty words. The ones we’re not supposed to say. It was like Uncle Terry at your birthday party.’
‘Perhaps he wasn’t feeling well.’
‘That’s no excuse. I don’t like him. I don’t want him to bring our presents this year. I want you to creep in in the dark and hang our stockings on the bed. Just like you did last year.’
I kissed them goodnight and shut the door. This year they will be in a cold country for Christmas and someone else will be kissing them goodnight on Christmas Eve.
And I will be thinking very of the time I dressed up as Santa Claus for their Christmas party and passed out on the floor of the Country Womens Association hall. And wishing I could do it all again.
Early Christmas present: If you have an e-reader and would like something out of Santa’s sleigh just email me at colin underscore falconer underscore author at hotmail dot com and I’ll pick two emails at random and send you a copy of my historical thriller Opium.
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