I want to tell you about my dad and Christmas. When we were little, the first sign of Christmas in our house was when dad would pack my sister and I into the car and drive down to the Christmas tree farm to pick out our tree. We ALWAYS had a real tree the smell of fresh pine still makes me think of these times. It was so exciting! We’d wander around inspecting each tree and dad would say, “We will know the right one when we see it”. He said it will have a certain glow about it and we will know that it’s ours. Round and around we wandered, nominating a tree here and there, until all 3 of us would stand in front of one glorious specimen, nodding in agreement that this was definitely The One. Of course The One would always be just a little bit too big or a little bit too expensive but dad would buy it anyway and the next Christmas tradition was watching dad explain to mum how he managed to come home with such a giant tree….AGAIN! But we loved it…and I suspect mum did too which is probably why she never came with us, lest she rain on our tree-picking parade.
As soon as we got home, the badgering would start about when can we Decorate the Tree???!! The tradition of “Decorating the Tree” could only come after the tradition of “Finding All the Decorations Which Have Somehow Moved From Where We Put Them Last Year” then the “Untangle and Work Out Which Bulb Has Blown in the Christmas Lights” tradition and there was often the “Festive Dummy-Spit” over one or more of the above traditions too!
But once the tree was in the pot, and the lights were on….then it could begin!!!
Into the box of baubles and tinsel we would dive and just before we were about to put the first bauble on…dad would ALWAYS say this…
“When you put them on, make sure you put them right to the end of the branch so that when the tree starts to droop, then won’t fall off onto the floor and break”. As a bright eyed child, this was sage advice from my ever-wise father…By the time I was a horrible teenager, I would usually respond with…”Well, der Dad, you say that every year”
Once the tree was decorated, the last step was to put the angel on the top. Many a year, that poor angel sat on a jaunty angle because we had indeed bought a tree that was way too big and the top was pressed up against the ceiling. The tree always looked beautiful, heaving with an odd assortment of baubles and tinsel and taking up half the lounge room. Once the decorating was finished, that meant that we would soon be visited by The Elves. Usually within hours of finishing the tree, Sammy and I would be sitting in the lounge room and from outside a window, we would hear, (in a very high pitched squeak),
We looked at each other and jumped up screaming, “The Elves have been! The Elves have been!” This sent our dog, Chelsea, into conniptions, tearing around the house looking for them. Dad would get very excited saying “Where are they Chels?, where are they?” By now, Chelsea has gone completely crazy, bolted out of the back door and down the side of the house. We’d all run out of the house after her trying to find The Elves. After a fruitless search, Sammy and I headed back inside to inspect the tree. Hidden, somewhere in the tree, amongst the tinsel and the lights would be an Elf Chocolate each which we agreed tasted soooooo different to ordinary chocolate… The Elves would visit us a few times in the weeks leading up to Christmas, each time sending the house into chaos for a bit. It was impossible to walk past the tree without having a quick look to make sure that The Elves hadn’t been while we were out or something!
I remember one year, Chelsea bolted out the front in hot pursuit of these Elves and I have vivid memories of actually seeing them. I DID!!! I remember what they were wearing and I saw them turn the corner at the end of the street and out of sight. Dad had created such a vivid world for us that I truly believed I was seeing The Elves. Another year, Chelsea bolted down the side of the house and stood barking at the side gate. When we ran to the gate, we saw a tiny piece of fabric caught on the wood. Dad said that one of The Elves must have caught his jacket and torn it. He said you can tell it’s from The Elves because of the tiny little stitching. I don’t know how many pairs of socks Dad had to go through until he found one with small enough stitching to complete the effect but we believed him. I couldn’t believe that we had an actual piece of an Elf jacket!! Dad said, that if we put the fabric under the tree for The Elves, Mrs Claus might be able to repair the jacket.
We wrote them a note and put it with the fabric and waited….
Some time, later that day, the fabric disappeared and then, later, we heard that familiar sound…”eebly-jeebly, eebly-jeebly”
They’ve been!!! We raced to the tree and under it was a tiny little folded note and written on the front, in tiny little handwriting, was “From the Elves”. It was a note saying that Mrs Claus was so grateful to us for helping her fix the jacket that she had sent some extra special chocolate. This world that dad created for us was so detailed and extensive that we truly believed in the Elves. There were so many different ways they came and visited us. Our poor neighbours must have had a hard time explaining to their kids why the elves didn’t come to them but seemed to be having a riot of a time at the house next door. I imagine more than one exhausted parent silently shaking their fist over the fence at dad!!
The countdown to Christmas Eve was always excruciatingly long. It felt like it would never come. But come around it did and it was the most exciting night of the year. Before going to bed, we would pick lots of long grass and dad would throw it up onto the roof for the reindeer to eat. We put out a glass of whiskey or port and a piece of fruit cake for Santa to have as a snack. We hung our giant Santa sacks over the end of the bed and went to sleep. I would lie there, too excited to sleep and every year I vowed to stay awake long enough to see Santa come.
I never did.
Apparently one year, Sammy woke up while “Santa” was filling the sacks and he had to spend quite some time huddled at the end of the bed hoping he wouldn’t be caught until she finally fell back asleep! Then, in the wee hours of the morning, usually around 2 or 3 o’clock, one of us would wake up and feel around at the end of the bed to feel the crackle of wrapping paper in our Santa sacks.
Out of bed we leapt, grabbed our sacks and ran all the way to mum and dad’s room yelling at the top of lungs…”He’s been, he’s beeeeeeeen!” We would burst through the door of their room and up onto the bed. I seem to recall an endless bag of presents. The simple sight of that sack full of presents was other-worldly. The wonder that comes with the true belief that Santa, that most wonderous of beings, had indeed come to visit little old you. And just when you thought all the presents had been opened, there was always a stocking of gifts From The Elves. It was full of little tiny gifts and chocolates, each one individually wrapped. It felt like the unwrapping (which is always the best bit) went on forever.
After all the presents were open, and as the four of us sat in a pile of paper up to our chins, we were sent back to bed to sleep and we were not allowed to get up again, until it was light.
In the morning we went through all the presents again. Dad would get up and take us out the front to show us where the reindeer had been. Strewn all over the porch were half eaten bits of grass and inside was a half-eaten piece of Christmas cake and an (always!) empty glass, as proof that he had indeed been. Then Dad would make breakfast and start preparing the food for the day as we played with our presents.
I remember so many details of our Christmases at home. I remember the pure childlike excitement. The unshakeable belief that this was all very real. This belief was very hard to break especially for Sammy. The last year that Sammy believed in Santa, dad was convinced that she must already know that he wasn’t real. As a bit of a joke, thinking it was a great way to show her that he was Santa, he and mum set up a fake photo shoot of Santa delivering the presents. They did this during the year on a night that we were at nan and pop’s. Dad hired a Santa suit and stuffed pillows under the blankets to make it look like we were asleep. Mum borrowed a Polaroid camera from my uncle and got down on the floor (at Elf height!) and took photos of Santa delivering the presents. At Christmas time, dad left the photos under the tree with a note for Sammy saying that the elves had heard that she thought Santa might not be real so they had some photos to prove he was. Mum and dad thought she would look at the photos and know for sure it was Dad. Instead, Sammy took it as proof positive that Santa was in fact real and took the photos to school to show them how wrong they all were….poor Sammy, she was teased mercilessly for that. (Heehee!)
Easter was another time of magic and wonder for us. We put out whiskey or port and a plate of carrots. On the floor dad put a tray of talcum powder so we could see where the Easter Bunny had been and in the morning, the house was full of little paw prints that Dad had made out of talc. They went everywhere, in different rooms and into the garden. Some of the prints would have a little skid where Easter Bunny had slipped going around a corner! The level of detail was impressive and he covered so many bases to keep us believing for as long as possible.
I remember the day I found out that it was all mum and dad. I had been asking questions about how it was all possible. (Trust me to bring those pesky laws of physics into everything). Dad took me outside and we sat on the swings. He asked me what I thought and I told him that I thought he might be Santa. He said he was and I was surprisingly ok about it all. I was, however, pretty shocked to find out that he was also the Easter Bunny AND the Tooth Fairy! I didn’t see that coming!
So, Merry Christmas Dad. Thank you for the years of joy and wonder. Thank you for creating such a vibrant, imaginary world for us that lives on in my memory every single day. Your devotion to a ruse is a thing of beauty and your love for us as children inspires me to be a better parent every day. I am so lucky to have so many happy memories. I am so proud to have you as my Dad and even prouder to see the traditions being handed down to your grand kids. To see Wade’s face light up when we come to your house and see how much he loves his Grandad makes me so excited for Christmases to come when we will hear the next generation’s call of “He’s beeeeeen!”
Wade is lucky to have you and so am I. Next year will be the first year that Wade will have some idea of the magic of Christmas and, inspired by the amazing childhood I had, I will be pulling out all the stops to make Christmas as magical and amazing for him as you made it for me.