As an antidote to yesterday’s slightly downbeat post, here’s something more festive: five things I didn’t know about Christmas until I had kids.
1. There’s a reason kids go to bed early on Christmas Eve
Before having children, I wondered about the emphasis on getting kids to bed earlier than usual on Christmas Eve – why all the fuss about this one night, when for 364 nights they’d go to bed at a normal, presumably later than ideal time?
Having found ourselves still cutting a Barbie car out of its numerous tightly wound wires and cardboard box at 1am a few years ago, my husband and I now know why kids go to bed early on Christmas Eve. Parents need every minute of that post-bed-time period to get ready for the following day – whether it’s last-minute food preparation or cutting toys out of boxes or searching for batteries; every second counts. So there’s a little bit of turning back the clock in our house each year (not literally – none of them can tell the time yet) and we start bigging up bedtime not long after lunch.
2. Do your toy-de-boxing in advance
As mentioned in point 1 above, getting toys out of boxes and putting in batteries is very hard work – much harder than I could ever have anticipated. I don’t know if it’s to prevent people in toy-shops taking them out of boxes or a perverse torture of parents (toy makers: we are your bread and butter) but it’s tough going. So now we know to do this de-boxing a few nights before Christmas – it doubles up as a toy-recce too; a chance to spot if one of our three piles is out of synch with the others. And actually, without the pressure of it being December 24th, it’s fun.
3. There’s nothing on TV on Christmas Eve
So, now that we’ve figured out to de-box the toys in advance, we have a bit of time to relax with a glass of wine on Christmas Eve. And now we know, there is nothing at all on television. I guess half of the population are in their local pubs and the other half are busy cutting toys out of boxes and peeling potatoes, so there’s no great impetus on television schedulers to give it their best shot. And live shows are out, because everyone is at home – as they should be. So our choice this year includes “Christmas with the Kranks” and the very festive “Midsomer Murders”
4. There’s a reason children write letters to Santa
It’s a tradition we all remember well from our own childhoods – writing that all important letter, making sure to thank Santa for last year’s presents, and finally committing this year’s request to paper. And of course, now we know that that’s the purpose – the committing to paper bit.
No parent who has elbowed through crowds in Smyths at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night in December to get a Furby needs to hear “actually I’ve changed my mind, I want a Flutterbye Fairy” on the 23rd. So in our house, we have a special letter-writing and hot-chocolate afternoon in late November, and once those letters are winging their way to the North Pole, there’s no going back.
5. Keeping the faith
From the age of eleven (when I found out the devastating truth about Santa) right up until I had my own children, I was in awe of the whole world for managing to keep this secret. I mean, how cool is it that generation after generation, we’re keeping this going?
I know it’s not for everyone, and I know the man in the red suit is a Coca Cola concoction, but I love the it. I love that children believe in this magical side of Christmas; I love my own memories of the magic and I love seeing my children today, excited beyond words about what will happen next week.
I love that on the RTE television news on Christmas Eve, the newsreader announces that Santa has left the North Pole. That adults who encounter children during December will open conversations with “so what did you ask for from Santa?” while giving a knowing nod to the accompanying parents and subtly asking “how are you fixed?” – Santa-code. Entire movies are dedicated to theme and newspapers play along too – Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
But. It is much harder to cover tracks than I ever could have anticipated. Shopping at night after kids have gone to bed is pretty tiring. Transferring toys from car to attic, via creaky attic ladder: tricky. Hiding packaging after above-mentioned de-boxing: risky. Wondering if we can get away with the Next tags on the clothes that Santa bought for one more year: not sure.
Or maybe we’re openly in agreement that Santa also buys gifts – perhaps he doesn’t make them all? We haven’t been asked yet, but I’d better prepare an answer.
Yesterday I was reeling off reindeer names, and was then asked how do people know all the reindeer names if nobody has ever seen Santa. Indeed. As a wise friend suggested last night, I will start to say “well that’s what my parents told me as a child, and now I’m telling you”.
One last thing I’ve learned: if you buy some tree lights that have eight settings, the first seven of which are some variation of on-and-off flashing, and if you don’t like the flashing, and have to slowly and carefully press a button eight times, to get to the last setting where the lights just stay on: do not go out and buy the exact same set of lights the next year, as you will have to press the button sixteen times each night. Just saying.