From a distance the sky above it looked like aurora borealis or a particularly festive housefire: something was afoot at the local gardening centre. The “Miracle of Christmas” had arrived. Gone were the back crippling bags of peat-free compost, the unnatural hues of expensive gravel, the “hilarious” meercat garden ornaments that I assume people buy just to therapeutically smash up? In fact almost everything to do with the garden had been replaced with yuletide tat – trust me, you would be hard pressed to find a hoe hoe hoe. Outside, fairy lights strangled the guttering and inflatable snowmen shivered in the wind, laughing polar bears and geographically challenged penguins avoided the cold dead gaze of flinching animatronic children – your typical “merry” scene. As you can imagine the sudden urge to buy a bauble was overwhelming.
Inside, there was more tinsel than anyone should have to see in a single lifetime, an impossible amount to fit into the dimensions of the shop – mile after mile of the glittering intestines of Christmas. The place was packed: unsuspecting dads had gone to buy a tree and been ambushed by jolly fat consumerism in a beard. Children, including my own, were excited but impeccably behaved – still very much in awe of the magic of light emitting diodes. We were there to see Father Christmas, to drop off “the list”. For unfathomable reasons they had chosen the smallest and oldest one of the many display sheds they normally sell “out the back” to set up this magical encounter – rarely has the word “Grotto” been more apt. My son was nervous about going in and asked me what would happen. I didn’t know. I hadn’t done this since the modern invention of the paedophile. I had no idea if the whole “sitting on a strangers lap in a shed in exchange for a present” thing still went on. Perhaps a social worker or a policeman would be filming the encounter, I might have to sign some sort of festive molestation waiver? As it turned out “lapland” had been replaced with a brief handshake and a polite enquiry as to whether my son had been a good boy? Once assurances had been made that he was and would continue to be a good boy he was presented with a gift, we gave Santa our list and we left. On the way out I took out a small mortgage in exchange for photographic proof of our encounter. On the car journey home my son was quiet, and briefly I worried that he’d seen through the garden shed disguise and the fake beard. I needn’t have – once home, he ran to the front door and gave such an account to my wife that I barely recognised his description of our morning. I have to remind myself that children’s eyes work differently to our own; where we see cheap tinsel and fake beards they see magic and wonder. The fact that Father Christmas is in a shed at the local gardening centre, will not stand in the way of a child’s belief in the story.
That’s the real miracle of Christmas.