The final clue came on Christmas morning when I found my letter to Santa crumpled up on the floor of my mother’s bedroom. “It must have fallen out of his sack on his way out my window last night,” she responded without pause. “He probably didn’t want to get soot all over his smart red-velvet suit.”
It was a quick-fire response, but at age eight, I was ready to trade in the fantasy of fairies and flying reindeer, anyway, and start thinking about real things like ponies and multiplication.
To this day, though, I still listen for the tinkling sound of sleigh bells on the night before Christmas. Because when you’re raised by a woman with a mind as fanciful as my mother’s, you never completely let go of the magic. Years later, and thousands of miles away from my mum, England, and the charmingly Victorian Christmas spirit I grew up with, I’m determined to make the festive season as magical for my children as mine was for my brother and I. Which starts, of course, with letters to Santa.
Last year my daughter, Iole, then four, crafted a card asking for red high heels like the ones Dorothy wore when she met the Wizard. My two-year-old son, Antimo, scribbled something that looked vaguely like a fish. I was tempted to save their letters like my mother did (the one where I asked for a pet camel and a yacht is a favourite), but watching their glowing faces as we lit a fire and sent the letters up the chimney was worth more than the keepsakes. Weeks later, we boarded a plane so they could experience their first English-in-England Christmas. My mum, Queen of Crimbo, pulled out all the stops, with carols at the Royal Albert Hall, a skate around the Victorian grounds of the Natural History Museum and a visit to the ridiculously over-the-top Harrods toy department.
As Christmas Eve approached, we dashed about under the twinkling lights of London, discussing what homemade confection to leave for Father Christmas. When I was growing up, my mother always found time to bake biscuits and peel carrots for the reindeer, “So they don’t run out of fuel between here and Tuvalu.” And so then, would I. As we were in England, traditional shortbread for Father Christmas seemed apropos. Neither Iole nor Antimo seemed to care how burnt the biscuits were as they proudly placed each one on a pretty porcelain plate and carried them off to the fireplace. “And don’t forget Father Christmas’s sherry!” piped up my mother, surrounded by goose fat and gravy in her chaotic little kitchen.
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It’s easy to get carried away with stories of sugar plum fairies and industrious little elves, so at bedtime I made sure to slip in a word or two about Jesus, and we sang a verse or two of “Silent Night” (as I’ve done since Iole was a baby). Then, just as my mother used to do once our guests were gone and my brother and I were tucked away in bed, I tiptoed into the living room to last-minute speed wrap “Santa’s” presents and chomp on raw carrots.
Iole and Antimo were bursting with joy when they woke up to discover shortbread crumbs around the fireplace and piles of presents under the tree. My own memories of Christmas morning came swishing back.
This year, we’re going to celebrate Christmas as a family of five at home in Toronto. Our baby, Luma, just three months old, will get her first ornament (my children receive one every year, as my brother and I did) to add her sparkle to our 10-foot balsam fir.
I read once that children give you the first four years of your life back, and this couldn’t be truer for me than at Christmastime. I’m quite certain that all these traditions are just as much for my benefit as theirs. In a few years, they’ll know it’s all made up, but for as long as their imaginations have room for such fantasy, I’ll continue to feed it, just as my mum did for me.
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