The elf rang the bell and my husband, son and I climbed aboard the bus bound for Santa’s Cottage.
We passed Santa’s washing drying on the line - this consisted of his spare red suit and an alarmingly large pair of underpants.
Mrs Claus greeted us at the door of the magical chalet and led us into the cosiest room I’ve ever seen. There was a roaring fire, toys and Christmas decorations, fairy lights twinkling everywhere.
The adults were offered mulled wine and mince pies. The children sat at Santa’s feet while he told them a story about how the robin got his red breast from the dye in Santa’s suit!
Ensconced in that homely cottage I felt like a child again, part of me never wanted to leave this enchanted place.
Later, the bus took us back to the stable yard of Castle Ward where we had a meal. As we dined my nine-year-old son looked at me and his dad and announced; ‘‘I have my suspicions!’’.
Hubby and I gulped with angst.
‘‘What about love?’’ I asked.
‘‘How can there be so many Santas? That’s three I’ve seen in three days and they’ve all looked different!’’.
‘‘What do you think?’’ I probed, ready to face the music.
Junior looked from me to his father, trying to read our faces.
‘‘I suppose they are just his stand-ins!’’ he concluded, quickly getting lost in the distraction of the gift Santa had handed him.
Hubby and I agreed with his deduction and changed the subject.
My son is teetering on the precipice of belief and non belief.
I assume he wants this one last year of faith in the red suit before he moves on to a new stage of maturity.
There’s a great sadness in my heart knowing that the end is nigh.
My son’s first hints of scepticism came last month when he began asking probing questions on the practicalities of being Santa.
I was about to do the big reveal, but Junior sensed it and quickly back-peddled, I suspect he’s not quite ready for acceptance.
I hate the deceit, but at the same time I don’t want to burst his bubble.
Some parents don’t agree with maintaining the myth, but we personally have created the most wonderful family Christmas memories, which Junior will no doubt go on to attempt to re-create for his own children.
How can making magical memories be wrong and just how should parents go about the great disclosure when the time arrives?
Some years ago, a piece appeared in the New York Times written by Martha Brockenbrough in which she wrote a letter to her daughter revealing the truth.
She explained quite beautifully that Santa was like a spirit that lived within us, helping us to believe in things we can’t see or touch. She pointed out to her daughter that in life, we all need this capacity to believe in things we can’t measure or hold in our hand.
She was referring to having belief in ourselves, our family, our faith and love, even during life’s darkest, coldest moments we will need to be able to cling to these invisible forces.
She explained that as we mature, we become keepers of the Santa secret, like elves helping spread magic, happiness, love, hope and joy to the generation of children who come behind us.
I think this is a lovely explanation for why the world colludes in perpetuating the Claus myth.
Santa isn’t really a lie; he’s a global movement of love and kindness that we all become a part of when we are old enough to work out the truth about the big man in the red suit.
I will explain to my own son when the time comes, (and it’s not far off!) that’s he’s being inducted into the Santa secret service and that ‘Santa’ is sort of the code word for the spirit of Christmas.
There’s a lovely poem by an anonymous author called; The Spirit of Santa Claus,’ which is about a father debunking the myth to his daughter.
I think the prose explains the Santa concept wonderfully, it ends with the lines:
“But the real spirit of Christmas is in you and in me,
And I hope you are old enough now to see,
That as we believe and continue to give,
Our friend Santa Claus will continue to live!”