Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there …
When Bethesda wondered during a telephone call if she would see Santa in the living room again this year, her father, who no longer lives with us, replied, “You probably won’t, darling.”
Upset, Bethesda turned to me. “Santa doesn’t exist! I think it was Dad all along!”
I told her that there was one way to find out: to wait and see whether Santa would turn up.
“But you mustn’t get out of bed too quickly after he leaves, lest he never come back,” I said.
And so she waited, but no Santa appeared.
“Don’t be sad, bunny,” I said. “Even if it was Daddy, the Christmas spirit was alive in him.”
But then, at 12 a.m., there was the clatter of 12cm wedges on the bathroom tiles and the snorting resulting from the effort of trying not to suffocate, both under a heavy nylon beard and in a vast tomato red synthetic felt eBay Santa suit stuffed with feather cushions in 30 degree heat. (If you look at Santa’s spectacles in the pictures, you will see that they are steaming up.)
I suspect that Santa has an easier time of it in the Northern Hemisphere.
Subdued, that tinkle of bells stolen from an eight-year-old child’s toybox.
Santa – for it was the right jolly old Christmas elf himself! – wove his way into Bethesda’s room, trying not to trip over his red trousers in the wedges he couldn’t see because of his belly.
Ready for his big moment, he suddenly realised that as there was no moon out, he was completely invisible. So, holding his enormous feather-stuffed belly, he lumbered out of the bedroom as quickly as he could and into the kitchen, where he lit a candle (for Santa is, above all, resourceful). Praying that his nylon beard would not catch fire, he gingerly placed the candle on Bethesda’s desk, before crying, “HO! HO!” and, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” in the deepest voice he could muster (the end effect being something like Benicio del Toro the day after the Oscars).
In the candlelight, Bethesda stirred, paled, and – literally – gasped.
Her disorientation was adorable.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” she managed, causing Santa to worry that she would either:
a) have a panic attack, or,
b) be scarred for life, suffering nightmares about an obese geriatric stranger in a red suit suddenly appearing in her bedroom with a candle.
Santa was also worried that his voice would give him away, and so muttered, “HO! HO!” again, if with a little less alacrity, before lumbering out into the living room and changing at a speed generally known only to Peregrine Falcons. He stuffed the evidence under a mohair throw on the sofa and, just as rapidly, pulled on a long white skirt and pink camisole (Andrej Pejic Santa).
I crashed into Bethesda in the corridor.
“What’s going on?” I asked, wiping the perspiration from my face and throat. My hair was everywhere. “I just woke up – I’d fallen asleep reading a book, and heard a noise.”
Disorientated, Bethesda addressed me with glowing eyes. “I SAW SANTA!”
I slapped my head. “I THOUGHT I heard a ‘ho, ho, ho’ and saw a flash leaving your room!”
Her words fell over each other. “I know it wasn’t you, because you only missed him by a second! And he was really, really, really fat, besides, and had a HUGE beard and a long curling moustache, like Shifu in Kung Fu Panda, and his hair wasn’t long and dark. And he didn’t sound like you at all – he had a really, really deep, gravelly voice.”
“Yes! Like this [she made a sound like water flowing down a drain]. And then he took all these presents out from under his coat, and then I saw him turn into a pin prick of light and squeeze through the flyscreen, and then he turned into Santa again and leap up onto the roof like a superhero – mama, you should have seen him: he almost fell off! But I didn’t see the reindeer.”
Confused by the second half of her story, I said, “Maybe they flew off in a different direction?”
Bethesda nodded at this, delirious. “Oh, mama,” she cried, “SANTA IS REAL!”