Something magical happened to me in an enchanted forest in Ascot, Berkshire in December 2022 ─ or to be more precise, Lapland UK; but before I tell all, I need to provide a wee contextual introduction …
Father Christmas won’t be coming
One Christmas Eve, when I was aged around ten, I heard odd shuffling noises coming from the landing. Although tucked up in bed I decided to investigate; but I had to be cunning since my parents had given me a clear directive: “If you don’t go to sleep, Father Christmas won’t come!”
Lifting myself gingerly onto my chest of drawers, I managed to have a gander through the window above my door and clearly saw my dad inching his way down the staircase with my new bike. The spirit of Christmas instantly dissolved: the fat bearded one in a red and white jumpsuit was just an illusion (although ─ on the plus side ─ the presents were real!).
For the next few years I maintained the fantasy, which cost me nothing. Then came a trigger point, I guess when I began to receive pocket money and I had to start putting my hand in my own pocket? I realised that money and I were never close companions for long.
Keeping up the tradition
I repeated the Christmas duplicity with my children, and so the cycle of consumerism continued. But a recent suggestion to my kids – both of whom have now left home ─ that we don’t buy each other any presents, because we are comfortably off, was met with derision!
My partner’s grandchildren, Arthur and sister Darcie, now four and two respectively, deserve a little more leeway before the bubble ultimately bursts for both of them so I see it as my duty to play along.
That’s how, on an afternoon when the weather befitted the real North Pole, I found myself in a quaint reception area, impressively constructed within the towering Scots pines of Swinley forest, with my two little best buddies. The convivial feel was reinforced by the obligatory photograph on the welcome bench, with children ─ willing or not ─ held tightly by the grown-ups for the crucial cheese shot. Cast members dressed as elves added to the Christmassy feel, although at this juncture I was more focused on disguising my inner Scrooge, especially in front of Arthur and Darcie.
A delightful surprise
Entering the first of several themed auditoriums, I was completely unprepared for what was to come. My grouchiness evaporated in the blink of a misty eye. The elves deliberately, dynamically and deftly, staged a show that made the children, the ‘Small Folk’, the centre of their entire universe. As a fully paid-up member of the ‘Big Folk’ I became secondary to the spectacle unfolding around me.
Dancing between groups of families, one elf struck up a charming conversation with Arthur that concluded with an important exchange; Arthur was now the guardian of a small suitcase with the word ‘Conker’ painted on the side. Although a rather large piece of luggage for a three-year-old, Arthur held on to it like his very life depended on it.
I melted. My precious partner in crime with whom, amongst many activities, I sing silly songs and play with toys, became the teacher and I the pupil. The awe on his face was unmistakable, as was the realisation of what I had just witnessed and what I had lost touch with while growing up. I had forgotten how to ‘wonder’ and I instinctively knew that my life may have been substantially different if I had not. Seeing it in Arthur’s face is an experience that will remain etched on my memory for eternity. But Big Folk rarely cry, do they?
The Small Folk save Christmas
What followed was the most wonderful journey that – without giving the game away – created the believable narrative that the Small Folk had saved Christmas, with Arthur playing a significant part in this storyline. The case which he protected with vigour contained a vital element in the completion of this famous triumph.
Behind the scenes the Small Folk’s mum, Emma, had populated a portal that had safely stored key intelligence – friends, recent activities, and the all-important data, their essential present wish! Coupled with a personalised invitation from the man himself that had arrived a few days previously, the Battle family, creators of this living fairy-tale, hadn’t missed a beat in this heart-warming adventure.
The moment arrived. A carefully choreographed chapter of pure fantasy had us all skipping along a fir-lined path towards Father Christmas’s house! Arthur excitedly engaged in conversation with the elf on the doorstep of the pinnacle of this spectacular show, before the door creaked open and we were in the presence of the fat bearded one in a red and white jumpsuit. This was no illusion!
Darcie, somewhat suspicious of any unknown face outside of her close family, remained attached to mum, but Arthur beamed. I was convinced that if his little legs swung any more rapidly, a vortex would form underneath and elevate him to the ceiling. Then the spine-chilling moment occurred right in front of my eyes: “Arthur, you are on the good list. What about your best friend Jacob Brooker? And I understand you had a sleepover at Nana and Ian’s the other night?”
The power of imagination
I gasped! WOW! How did Father Christmas, the all-seeing eye, know this? As my eyes welled again, I managed to regain a modicum of composure; Arthur and Darcie’s parents – a shoutout for dad Ruairi – had given their two children the most precious gift of all, better than any toy, gadget, or piece of technology ─ the superpower of imagination.
My little mate simply did his chum proud! Arthur confidently explained that he most desired a big boy bike, whilst Emma, on behalf of Darcie, who will need a top up visit next year, confirmed that a new baby doll was sought by the youngest of the Small Folk.
As I floated away (back to the car park), the penny finally dropped for a grumpy older man who had lost his sense of the significance of dreams decades previously. I accepted that Father Christmas is real – at least in my own imagination – and that’s good enough for me!