A couple of weeks from now, loving parents among our readers will tuck their little children into bed.
And just before they turn out the light, they’ll say: “Go to sleep now and sometime in the night – if you’ve been good – Santa will come. And when you wake up in the morning he will have left you presents in your stocking.”
“You mean pillow case.”
“Yes, stockings only happened when I was little.”
“In the olden days.”
“Right. Okay, ‘night, ‘night’.”
And the loving parents will gently close the door with a warm feeling of vicarious anticipation on behalf of their babes.
I do hope they will find it in their hearts to resist. For that scene, or something very like it, occurred to me as a child and it came roaring out of an anguished memory bank last week in a television studio.
I had been invited by the ABC to be interviewed by John Barron (best known for his “Planet America” series) on their News 24 “One Plus One” program, a series of 15-minute profiles. And his first question was: “How did you become a journalist and a writer?”
Suddenly, I was back in my bed on our Brisbane sleepout as a four or five-year-old, awakened in the middle of the night by shuffling at the end of my bed.
“Santa Claus!” I hardy dared breathe.
But no, there were two figures; and in the moonlight through the louvers their identity was unmistakable. I didn’t move a muscle as they filled the pillow slip. Then they crept away like thieves in the night.
I stared into the darkness. The people I loved and trusted most had lied to me. Santa Claus, and my being good to deserve the presents, was a lie. It was so shocking that I couldn’t bring myself to mention it to them.
A few years later at Sunday School, it was the same thing all over. When I graduated to the age of reason I suddenly realised that all that stuff about miracles and raising people from the dead and heavenly hosts was simply ludicrous. Adults had lied to me. Again.
It was simply devastating.
But along with the fierce sense of disillusion, came an overwhelming, insatiable curiosity, a desperate desire to discover the truth behind every aspect of our world and its wonders. And then to tell of my discoveries in stories people might like to read.
Journalism provided the pathway, first to discovery then to the foundations of the storyteller’s art.
Twenty-two books and uncountable journalistic articles later I’m still angry, still amazed by the cavalier manner in which we exert our power over little children; the way we instil nameless fears that haunt them through their lives.
So, unless you want your boys and girls to grow up to be (perish the thought) journalists or even authors, please don’t play Santa this year. Respect their dependence on you and the values you impart. Give them their presents face to face, not because they’ve “been good”, but simply because you love them. And the most precious one, of course, is trust.