Rory Fitzgerald takes a trip to Santa Claus with this children
The man from the North Pole continues to fascinate children across the world, not least in our house. The benevolent burglaris excitedly awaited each year by millions of children, their eyes shut tightly, as they struggle to sleep, while keenly awaiting the soft thud of reindeer hooves on the roof above.
Of course, well in advance of Santaís actual visit, there are weeks of negotiations with the man himself. These involves strenuous assertions by kids as to how amazingly good they have been all year – the childish equivalent of 'not guilty, your honour' – and, vitally, the posting of the letter to Santa. No doubt, the very first letter most children write is posted to what must be the most famous address in the world: Santa Claus, North Pole. In to the post-box it goes, no stamp required.
It is incredible to see the matter-of-fact way that children accept the extraordinary. Bringing our kids to see Santa at the local shopping centre this year, the only question asked in advance was "does it have a chimney?" For how would he get in, if his preferred mode of entry was unavailable? I told them Santa can also get in through doors. This notion, for some reason, was greeted with total disbelief: "No he doesn't dad, silly dad, Santa only comes in the chimney, everybody knows that, dad."
The embrace of the extraordinary and rejection of the mundane is one of the things that makes Santa so appealing.
After much queuing, moaning and complaining, we eventually gained admission to the grotto. There, in the dimly lit space, we were greeted by elves who reverently ushered us into the sanctum sanctorum where, enthroned, sat the jolly old man himself. For Rose, who is two, this was her first real-life encounter with Santa. At first, she shrunk back, overwhelmed, but Santa know the best approach; he began chatting with her older brother quietly, and she soon sidled up alongside.
He had questions to ask: "Have you been good boys and girls – have you been fighting or anything?" Both in unison, answered, "No, Santa" with such innocence and conviction that I almost believed them, before giving the elf a wry look.
Of course, Santa provides a disciplinary boon for parents in the run up to Christmas: Obstreperous behaviour can be quickly tamed by saying, for example, "I'll be having a word with Santa tomorrow", and "I'm not sure he'll be happy to hear that you were puling your sister's hair again".
With the passing years, Santa is taken ever more seriously at the highest levels of society: Even the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) the US defence agency charged with the deadly serious task of tracking incoming nuclear missiles, will this year again run noradsanta.org – using its sophisticated technology to give an online update as to Santaís whereabouts as he zips across the time zones. If you write to Santa in time, An Post will arrange for Santa to reply.
On Christmas Eve, poker-faced newsreaders around the world solemnly announce Santaís departure from the North Pole during news bulletins. And I will tell my children how fond Santa is of beer, and how vitally important it is that a large bottle be left out on the fireplace along with the slice of Christmas cake. On Christmas morning we will wake to find magic has happened overnight: the sitting room is strewn with presents and, lo and behold, Santa will has polished off the beer – as well he might.