One good reason for keeping the belief in Santa alive as long as possible? The awesome power of The Threat of Santa. Simon Sweetman explains how, when it comes to kids at Christmas, a little psychological manipulation can go a long way.
A Facebook friend posts that she’s angry and upset – some punk-ass little kid has killed the magic of Christmas for her child. Told him, presumably, that Santa is not real. Another day and another Facebook friend is boasting of their child’s pragmatism: “How does Santa deliver presents to every child in the world?” the kid had asked. “Ah, he’s very busy and clever”, the adult had responded, in mild panic no doubt. “Ah, I see – so he’s not real then”, their young kid deduced.
It’s the silly season, the stressful time, the build up to the one day of the year where you can be drunk before lunchtime and a parent. And hardly anyone (hiccup) judges you. Or at least it’s a public holiday and so it’s a long wait on the phone where ‘Slice of Heaven’ usually starts and finishes the job and nobody gets reported to anyone…
We haven’t told Oscar that Santa is or isn’t real. We haven’t told him anything much about Santa. He hasn’t previously asked too much about Christmas. He has tried to be excited about putting up the tree, tried to be inquisitive around the concept, the nature of Christmas. But it’s never really stuck. Oh, he’ll experience the full range of emotions in the time it takes to unwrap a single present. And then over and again. He’s been punch-drunk with elation and riding a sugar-high and all of that sort of thing. His on-the-day experience of Christmas is real. But leading up to it he hasn’t really cared too much.
This year however it’s a bit different. There was a countdown to the day we had to put the tree up – December 1 now known as Christmas Tree Day. And every day since we’ve had a countdown until Christmas Day. The “chocolate calendar” is a big deal this year too. The advent of the season is the reason for his excitement. And we’re fine with that, happy with that, but I’m just not sure where it’s come from. I have to just guess that for every spoilsport playground-bully ruining the magic in one school there are other kids in other schools helping to spread the joy, excitement and – well, there’s no other word for it – the frenzy of Christmas.
But this has helped us learn one cruel, calculated and simply magnificent fact: Whether Santa is real or not is wholly irrelevant. What matters most is that The Threat of Santa is very real.
Santa is always watching. Santa is just a phone call away. Santa is now also one of daddy’s Facebook friends. We do in fact have Santa’s email address. We know where he lives. We have been earning money all year to pay the mortgage and bills and also to contribute to Santa’s present-buying fund. He works for mum and dad, in that sense.
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The Threat of Santa is (ahem) FUCKING AWESOME!
Suddenly the room is being tidied without a second ask – because the second ask would be in the form of an email to Santa. Suddenly dinner is being devoured without the promise of an ice-cream or biscuit on completion. The real culinary thrill in December is getting the meal in the tummy before Dad sends Santa a message on Facebook. The TV is turned off just in time, the first time, before mummy texts Ol’ Saint Nick. And Father Christmas is, at this stage, still being trusted to bring all of the presents. But there are a few days left. So he might get a call at any minute, right up to and including Christmas Eve. He might not need the giant people-mover sleigh this year. Just the wee convertible.
Santa might get a beer and a slice of cake on Christmas Eve, sure. But right now The Threat of Santa is being toasted most nights. (You could say The Threat of Santa is allowing me to get toasted most nights. Yeah, you might say that.) The real Santa might be an evil white supremacist invented to sell more Coca-Cola, but the Threat of Santa is a shoulder rub, a pair of slippers and a big slug of scotch on the rocks all in one.
The Threat of Santa is so good at getting an answer first time. Eyes are on us, mouths are closed. Ears are alert.
And with a week to go we can start to really play our roles: the pantomime phone call, mobile phone up and out of pocket and moving toward the ear, timed just as the toilet is suddenly flushed, the teeth are brushed, the hands are washed and dried. I will probably have an actual (not really) conversation with (The Threat of) Santa later in the week. And it will go as well as I need it to go.
Cherish this special time. These are magical days. Make your child a believer if you never have previously. And do all you can to protect the sanctity, the sacredness of this special holiday, this amazing time. Because when Santa goes, The Threat of Santa disappears back up the chimney faster than any cloud of smoke. And that would be devastating.
Thank you, oh Threat of Santa, you beautiful concept of manipulation, you.
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