By Raffique Shah
December 30, 2016
If there is one universal truth about Christmas, it is that the festival is about children, most of all their innocence that runs so deep, for two thousand years adults have convinced them that there is a Santa Claus who dwells somewhere near the North Pole, and whose life-mission is to magically materialise toys and gifts that he distributes to little boys and girls across the world during that one night of the year.
What Santa does for the remaining 364 days is of no concern to the tiny mites: he just needs to get his Christmas Eve act right, then disappear until his services are required again. From his corpulent appearance, children probably believe that he lives to eat, drink, sleep and be merry.
In countries where Christmas is celebrated, children are sold on the Santa myth, which, I am convinced, is good for them. The real world is a harsh place, so why rush them to face reality? By age seven or eight, at which time they will have figured out the truth, they will have entered the human rat race that starts with an education system driven more by competition than learning, from which, ten to fifteen years later, few will emerge equipped to face life with confidence while many will wish they could time-travel back to their childhood when Santa was real.
When I examine my experiences as a boy, I was always suspicious of “Father Christmas”, as Santa was then called. As early five or six, I wondered why he ignored my wishes and gave me and my two sisters (two brothers joined us a little later) the cheapest toys I saw in the shops—me a 24-cents “caps” gun, not the real McCoy that often came with holster and cowboy hat, my sisters hairless plastic dolls, not the blondes with blue eyes other girls got, far less the ornate doll-house they may have wished for.
In fact, I deemed the bugger downright discriminatory when, one year, a cousin came a-calling on Christmas morning dressed like the Western star Roy Rogers, guns, studded holsters, scarf and hat et al, and another two played with an elaborate, impressive train set complete with locomotive, tracks and stations.
My suspicions heightened when Elsie, who lived nearby, showing off her life-like pink doll, swore she had seen Santa as he exited through the chimney during the night. I instinctively looked at their house and saw no chimney, so I knew she was lying. But even from that tender age, I understood that I should not shatter the myth of Santa: if children believed he existed, if he brought joy to their hearts, then let him be, let them be.
Even with such noble thoughts in my childish mind, though, I must confess to being envious of the more fortunate of my friends who, besides getting superior toys to mine, also boasted of having in their homes apples by the crates, grapes by the pounds, sweet drinks by the cases, boxes of brand-name biscuits, chocolates and other goodies, and a variety of foods.
Still, I was thankful for the dozen apples my father could afford, which we ate by slices, the lone chocolate bar Ma shared by blocks-per-day, the tasty breads and cakes that we helped her make and bake, and the joy of Christmas we experienced in what was a Muslim home.
I was painfully aware, too, that for some families in the village, there was no Christmas. Parents were too poor to buy even basic foods, far less goodies, and all too often, there were fathers who valued rum more than their children’s well-being, hence denying them a little seasonal happiness.
It was not unusual for families like mine, which managed to bring some Christmas joy to their children, to share at least food and cake with the less fortunate. Indeed, such sharing extended throughout the year—the poor helping the poorer and the poorest.
The big difference between charity and caring today and then is the donors neither sought nor received any publicity. They gave from their hearts—the shopkeepers, farmers, proprietors and ordinary workers like my father.
And even as I envied children on whom Santa bestowed bountiful gifts and goodies, in my childish heart I felt deep compassion for those who got nothing, the little boys and girls that Santa Claus forgot.
During those years when I wavered between belief and non-belief in the mythical merry-man, I would feel a prick in my conscience when I saw one of the forgotten watching me as I ran in our yard or on the street firing away my 24-cents caps gun.
That innate rejection of inequity that I felt as a child stayed with me after I lost my innocence, and grew exponentially when I matured as a man.
See what happened to this little boy that Santa Claus ignored?