Robert puts his children to bed on Christmas Eve. Well, he tries to put his two kids in their beds although it is far from simple. Not only is it Christmas Eve, but their mother Lisa is the nurse on duty overnight in the local nursing home. While Robert does his best, his daughter Noelle and son Nicky are just too excited to sleep. Santa Claus is traveling around the world, delivering presents to all the good boys and girls. It said so on the radio. They even said it on the news on TV. Santa Claus is on the way.
Two excited kids who believe in Santa Claus. They believe because their dad believes, too. Only, their dad really believes. No one ever told Robert any different. All his life, he believed in the magic of Christmas and the reality of Santa Claus. Robert tells Noelle and Nicky about some of his favourite Christmas moments as they settle down for the night. He remembers waking up to a set of matchbox cars on Christmas Day – he was 7 at the time – that he only asked for from Santa. Something about those cars and how only Santa could have seen his letter always stayed with Robert. When he was 10 years old, boys in Robert’s school started to say that Santa was not real. Yet, that Christmas, Santa visited again and Robert’s unbridled happiness raised the spirits of his whole family, affecting them all deeply. “Of course Santa is real,” Robert’s mother reacted when he confided that his school friends were doubtful. “Santa just needs you to believe.”
From that moment on, Robert believes and sees that his belief and, most importantly, his good behaviour are rewarded. Beyond 10 years of age, Santa Claus continued to bring wonderful surprises for Robert. One year, it was a mountain bike. The next, Santa brought fantastic fighting robots. All through his teens and even in his later years, when he had moved away from home, Robert would return home for Christmas with his family and wake up to a gift from Santa Claus on Christmas Day. Those who were close to Robert were heartened by his innocent spirit and unwilling to take it away from him. There was so little innocence remaining in this too often cruel world. Why not allow, if not enable Robert to maintain his innocence?
It took a true cynic to question Robert’s belief. Over the years, many tried to argue and reason against his belief in Santa Claus and yet Robert could not be turned against his years of experience. Even now, married for years to Lisa and with a daughter and son of his own, Robert remains resolute in his belief in Santa Claus. The only change is that he spends Christmas with his own family in their home. Regardless of this, Santa Claus has known to deliver Robert’s present to him wherever he may be. And as he tells stories to lull Noelle and Nicky to sleep, Robert is as excited as his kids are for Santa Claus to visit their house once more and leave lots of presents. “Only if we’ve been good,” Robert reminds the kids, as they finally drift off, “Only if we’ve been good…”
In the morning, there are no presents under the tree. Noelle and Nicky run down the stairs to find no presents and their father sitting on the floor distraught, rocking back and forth before the tree. Nothing. Not a single present. Not the smallest wrapped item. Nothing. It takes a while to sink in. Santa Claus has not visited their home. “We didn’t make the nice list,” Robert mumbles with tears in his eyes. The kids sit with their father, consoling one another. It should be a happy day, a joyful day for their family. Nothing. Nothing under the tree. No joy in their hearts. Nothing. They are so upset that they don’t notice mum Lisa arriving back from her night shift. All morning, she had waited for the relief staff but they did not arrive. Lisa tried to convince herself that she could make it home before the kids woke up. Unfortunately, that was clearly not how the morning worked out. After a few moments of standing at the doorway unnoticed by her family, Lisa strikes upon a new plan. She moves gingerly up the stairs and carefully drops the attic stairs on the landing without so much as a creak to be heard. A few minutes pass as Lisa goes from the attic to the bedrooms as swiftly as she has ever moved. She returns down the stairs to greet her family. Her return provokes a brief smile before Robert and the kids are reminded of the terrible news they must share.
“Santa didn’t come, mummy,” Nicky explains, his eyes bright pink from crying. “We must have made the naughty list.”
“We’re so sorry, mummy,” Noelle sobs.
Lisa looks to her husband but Robert appears too overwhelmed to speak. In his mind, a 37 year streak on the nice list has evaporated and for what, he does not know. Patiently, Lisa begins: “My darlings, there must be some mistake. Maybe Santa just kept your presents for last because you’ve been so good this year.” The kids shrugged their shoulders. If this was the case, they seemed to wonder, the presents should still be under the tree by now. Lisa leaned down to Noelle and Nicky and asked, “Well… did you check under your beds?” They looked at her with utter confusion and shook their heads. Lisa smiled. “But that’s where Santa puts presents for the really, really good boys and girls. Are you sure you didn’t look under your beds?” Again, the kids seem confused. Slowly but surely, it dawns on them that they ran downstairs so quickly to check underneath the Christmas tree that they couldn’t have possibly checked under their beds. Noelle and Nicky leap up and scurry up the stairs to their rooms. Moments later, great squeals of delight burst out of the upstairs rooms. Robert and Lisa arrive upstairs to see Noelle and Nicky uncovering the presents hidden under their beds.
Robert is overcome with joy for his children. It is a joyful day, after all. Perhaps, except for one thing. Robert steps out and walks to his bedroom. He feels nervous. He crouches down and examines under the bed. Robert yelps with excitement. There are presents for him and presents for Lisa too. Robert calls for his wife and as she walks in, Lisa takes on an astonished look. “For you?” she asks with gentle surprise, gesturing towards the presents. “And for you as well, my love!” Robert exclaims. There they sit, little kids and big kids, opening the presents that Santa has brought for them, with the added surprise of all being hidden. It would be the most magical Christmas Day yet for Robert, except he can’t quite ignore the questions circling around in his head. Why would Santa do something so different? How did Lisa know that presents could be found under the bed in this rarest of rare events? For the first Christmas in over a decade, Robert feels some doubt in his mind.
“I don’t mean to be a grinch, my dear,” he begins, “but I’ve never heard of Santa hiding presents under anyone’s bed…”
Lisa frowns as Robert sits forward, anxiously waiting for her to explain the mystery of this morning. His eyes are wide and Lisa can see his years of innocence, the innocence and naivety and goodness that she fell in love with and could not bear to crush. In truth, Lisa sees the eyes that all of Robert’s family ever saw and, just as they did, she feels obligated to protect that innocence.
“My goodness, Robert,” Lisa ventures, “don’t you know how many years that you’ve been on the nice list?” Robert considers this for a moment before nodding slightly. Lisa beams a bright smile. “Well, I tell you, if I was Santa Claus and I got to visit you every year, I’d want to do something different for such an extra-specially nice man. Don’t you think?” Robert sat in silence, thinking through what Lisa had said as she hoped for an agreeable response. Robert raised his head sheepishly. “But I… I wouldn’t want to be a bother on Santa’s busiest night…” The sweet innocence of the reply melted Lisa’s heart. “Of course not, my love,” she replied. “That’s why Santa waits until the very end of his journey. It’s no extra bother, not for someone so nice who believes so much. Remember, all Santa needs is for you to believe.” Robert blushes at his wife’s comments and they embrace each other with happiness in their hearts, contentment in their home.
As Robert goes to share his presents with his children, as he always does, Lisa realises she has partaken of a Christmas tradition in her own right. An established tradition for families around the world. Whether it’s insisting on belief in Santa or feigning happiness with a present or doing whatever it takes to be pleasant around people that you would rather avoid. Though it comes in many forms, there really is no Christmas tradition as commonly understood. It’s that classic Christmas tradition of looking into the eyes of your loved ones and lying to them.
Merry Christmas, one and all!