All the children but one were in bed. I looked at my oldest from across the living room, he was sat on a beanbag next to the Christmas tree, playing on a game console, headphones in and switched off from the rest of the world.
My wife give me a nudge with her elbow and and nodded towards him, her eyes telling me I had to convince our son to go to bed now. It was an hour or so before his normal time and I was finding being the father of a fourteen year old difficult.
‘It’s too early,’ I whispered back to my wife.
‘I know, but we have presents to wrap,’ she replied back.
‘So? Josh can help.’
She shook her head, ‘I want him to have one last magical Christmas.’
‘You said that last year…He’s a teenager now,’ I hissed back.
My wife pulled a face and turned her attention back to the TV. We had been watching some old Christmas movie but it wasn’t that interesting and followed the same old plot that other seasonal films did.
There would be no arguing with her. It really wasn’t the time. Christmas was stressful and more so when you had a big family and an even bigger extended one. We had six children; four girls and two boys, ageing between five and fourteen.
I had four older siblings who had many children of their own and my wife had three remaining siblings with families of their own, plus the children from her two brothers who had passed away. Then there were all the cousins, distant relatives and friends who were like family. Also, the people who only seemed to appear at Christmas then fade into memory for the rest of the year.
I got up, trying not to be grumpy. I was just as tired as she was and not in the mood for dealing with argumentative teenage boys. Perhaps, there was another way though?
Tapping, Josh lightly and motioning the removing of his headphones and I got his attention.
‘Why don’t you go and play that in bed now?’ I said.
‘It’s still early,’ he replied, a moaning tone in his voice.
‘I know, but we have present wrapping to do and you wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises.’
Josh fixed that look, the one that said he didn’t believe me and was getting on the edge to start arguing, ‘No, I won’t. I know what you’ve got me all ready. What I asked for; new headphones, Zombies Revenge Battle Two and The Haunted Earth games, Zomboz and Bomboz books, a download of the newest Death Rattle album, one of their band hoody and matching t-shirt.’
I took a deep breath, ‘and how do you really know we got you all of that?’
Josh shrugged and turned back to his game, ‘mum told me.’
Avoiding looking back at my wife, I spoke, ‘but we might have brought you something else too. Please, Josh, be good and think about your brothers and sisters. We know you don’t believe anymore but it’s important to keep things nice for them.’
I had noticed he had been keeping his distance all day. The other kids had been over-excited and unable to focus on much. Josh hadn’t spoke much and spent a lot of time playing his games. Even later, when we had gone out to lay the glitter and oats trail for the reindeer then put out the mince pie, whiskey and carrots, Josh hadn’t been with us.
Had my son really grown out of Christmas?
‘Come on, Josh. Bedtime or else you’ll have to help wrap presents,’ I pressed harder.
Josh sighed and gathered his things. He went upstairs and I followed after him.
‘I’m staying up to finish this level,’ Josh said, threateningly as he flopped down on his bed.
‘That’s fine. Thank you,’ I answered and went to shut the door.
‘Was Santa real?’ Josh asked.
I frowned and paused in the doorway. Where had that question come from?
‘Like, did he ever existed?’
I came back into the room, pushing the door closed behind me. Josh was sat up now, his game forgotten for the moment. I joined him on the bed and thought how to reply.
‘And don’t give me a fairy story, I know none of that is real,’ Josh added.
‘I guess there might have been an old man once who inspired the stories,’ I said carefully.
‘Like Robin Hood and King Arthur? There’s not much fact they existed, is there?’
‘Yeah, that’s right. It’s that kind of myth, legend thing. There must have been someone who inspired those stories,’ I replied, latching onto his way of thinking.
‘I guess that makes sense,’ Josh answered, ‘I wonder who he was? I bet the internet would know!’
‘The internet knows everything,’ I muttered, ‘but you know that some stories can’t be captured.’
‘Get into bed and let me tell you about an old man in Iceland who was the first Santa.’
‘Dad,’ Josh groaned, ‘I’m not a kid and I don’t need a bedtime story! And I have this level to finish.’
‘I know all that but just this once okay? I thought you wanted to hear about it.’
Pulling a face and muttering, Josh did as I asked and settled into bed.
‘Once there was an old man who lived alone but he loved children. He had longed wished for his own but, and though he’d had a few wives, he never had any of his own. He was black smith and also a carpenter because where he lived in a small town in Iceland it was far from anywhere else.’
‘He could have moved,’ Josh cut in.
‘Not the point,’ I replied and got on with the story, ‘the man made little money mending things, so he made things to sell but soon no one wanted anymore chairs or tables or shelves. The man decided he would have to make something else instead or he would have no money to get food or firewood.’
‘Sounds like he needs a new job,’ Josh muttered.
‘One day, watching the children play in the snow, an idea came to him; he would make them some toys. He spent a long time planning and trying to make things. At first he wasn’t sure what the children would like and because there was so few toys around, there was little for him to go off. The man asked the children and they told him they would like dolls and blocks, hoops and spinning tops, rocking horses and pull along dogs.’
‘Baby toys?’ Josh scoffed, ‘why?’
‘No, these where old fashioned toys. They didn’t have computers and TVs back then! Or even plastic. The toys were all made of wood and spare things that were left over from making other things. Children didn’t have a lot of time to play in the old days. They had to help their parents run farms and they had to go out to work as money was always short,’ I explained.
‘Like the Victorian children? We learned about them in history class.’
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘So, he made these toys and then what? He went and give them out?’
‘Erm, no, because he wouldn’t have made any money then. The man tried to sell the toys but people weren’t interesting. They didn’t have spare money to buy toys, they had to buy meat, bread and firewood instead. The man was disheartened but then another idea came to him and he asked some of the children to come and work for him. He give them easy tasks and paid them with toys.’
Josh laughed and asked, ‘for real?’
‘Sure, why not?’ I questioned, ‘the idea did work and other children came looking for work because they too wanted toys and the man found them jobs, sometimes helping him to make the toys themselves. When he ran out of jobs, the man got the children to help other people and because the children were getting toys instead of money, there was more money to go around.’
‘But, he wasn’t making any money himself was he? So, the man was just as poor as before.’
I give a nod and carried on, spinning the story I was making up on the spot as if it was a well known tale, ‘but because there was more money to go around now, people could offered to buy toys for their children. They could have special presents on their birthdays and Christmas. Then, one of the adults came to the old man and asked him to start making gifts that the adults could give each other because they had seen how happy the children were and the grown ups wanted to celebrate too.’
Josh nodded sleepily but didn’t interrupted. He was curled in bed, looking like a child once again as he started to doze off.
I continued, ‘The man was happy to do this because it meant more work and more money. So, he made gifts the adults could give each other and soon that become a tradition too. On the winter solace that year, the town celebrated the shortest day and the man give away many toys to lots of people, thus another tradition was born.’
Getting up, I tucked Josh in, he was almost asleep so it was time to finish the story, ‘ word began spreading about an old man in Iceland who give children toys in winter and people liked that idea and decided to make it so. Stories were told and added to and changed over the years. Santa was created from all them, but who knows what is true or not now? Like all great myths and legends, we’ll never know for sure but doesn’t that make them more interesting?’