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This time last year I was celebrating Xmas in Croatia (Merry Xmas, Jules. I hope Sveti Nikola brings you lots of presents :) This year, I’m in Belfast.

When did Santa become such an entrepreneur? Was he always like this? Was I blinded to the detail by youth and innocence and unconditional faith?

I remember going to the shopping malls at Christmas when I was little. Obviously this pre-dates rife paedophilia so in those days it was safe to sit on Santa’s lap – and he didn’t even need to have £1 million public liability insurance. An enchantingly beautiful elf took you by the hand and led you to Santa, introducing you to him with a sweet voice that floats to Santa’s ears like ribbons in the wind. Santa would invite you to sit on his knee, and he would smile a genuine smile.

“What’s your name,” he would ask.
“Ara,” I would squeak in my infantile voice
“What would you like me to bring you for Christmas this year?”
“A bicycle.” I always asked for a bike as my parents never allowed my brother and me to have bikes due to health and safety issues.
“Have you been a good boy this year?” Santa’s voice would bound sincerely and unrehearsed.
“Yes,” I would reply coyly, hiding my face and avoiding eye contact in case Santa could see that I was lying – but he was SANTA… he would know!

And with that, he would give you a little present - a token of good faith that there is still some magic in the world.

Yesterday I observed Santa in a shopping mall with his new act. Children would impatiently line up with their parents, who would pay PR Elf £3.75 for the privilege to stand beside Santa, as he groomed them towards the money-making photo-op. He smiles, they smile, he waves – flash, flash, pause, flash. Personal Assistant Elf hands Santa a present. Santa hands the present to child number 483 and points them in the direction of Accounts Manager Elf, who will present a baited parent with a hard copy of this memory for an extra £3.

I’m sifting through the catalogues of my memory trying to recall the tiny details of my experiences with the great man in red. Was it always this way?


["Now, child, look at over there as I use my powers to create artificial light! No, no, that's not a camera -it's magic! Have a chat to my associate elf over there and she will discuss your options on how to pay for this magic. Merry Christmas, ho haha."]