Once upon a time, I lived in New York. It wasn’t for very long, just a little while.
I can’t quite believe it actually happened. But it did – we had an apartment on the Upper, Upper, Upper West Side.
I was a stay-at-home mum while my ex studied business journalism at Columbia University.
As the festive season approaches I’ve been reminiscing about the white Christmas we spent there.
And I’m going to retell one of my favourite tales.
It goes like this …
Christmas can be confusing when you’re only two years old. Your parents take you to meet this scary guy in a red suit called Santa. You have to queue for ages, while people assure you there’s nothing to be afraid of (a sure sign there will be something to be afraid of) and tell you to ask him for a present.
Your older sibling has lots of requests, like Barbies and toy boats and stuff, so you decide to ask for another dolly, because you really like dollies.
Finally, you are taken into a small room with the scary Santa man, who wants you to sit on his knee.
There is no way you are going to sit on his knee. He is strange, and big and has all this white stuff on his chin.
Your parents try to make you sit beside him instead, so a lady can take a photo.
Mummy and Daddy try to stand on the other side of the room while the photo is taken. There is no way that will be happening. You get a little hysterical at the mere suggestion.
So Mummy and Daddy sit in the photo with you and the scary Santa man.
Eventually, after much coaxing, you tell Santa that you want a dolly.
A camera flashes a few times, you grudgingly agree to give the scary Santa man a high-five, and suddenly you are whisked outside into a dark corridor, where Mummy and Daddy negotiate to buy some very expensive photos of you looking petrified.
There’s just one problem – you don’t have a dolly.
You were told to ask the scary Santa man for a present. You agreed to sit beside him. You asked him for the dolly. Where is the damn dolly?
You ask your parents: “Why me got no dolly?”
They look momentarily startled, then start laughing. This is no laughing matter.
You eventually settled for a snowman ornament. But you’d still like a dolly. Apparently you have to wait until something called “Christmas” comes, which sounds like an awfully long time away.
Stuff you, Santa. And all your stupid, smiley elves. Useless, the lot of you!
My other favourite Christmas in New York story also focusses on the Santa visit …
I met the real Santa once. He was at Santaland, in the Macy’s department store in New York. It had to be him – he had a real beard and everything.
At the very least, it was an extremely close relative, like a brother or a nephew or a fifth cousin once removed.
The eldest was five at the time and totally blitzed. I think that’s what convinced me he was the real deal – the eldest sensed his special aura.
Santaland was pretty awesome too. There were model trains, dancing teddy bears and singing trees to entertain the hordes as we queued to see the man in red. Americans don’t do anything by half measures.
The look on the eldest’s face when we were finally ushered into Santa’s tiny faux living room was priceless. The eldest was literally giddy with joy and raced over, climbed onto a step at his feet and whispered to him for a few moments as we cajoled the youngest to get a bit closer.
Santa made such a big deal of the eldest, they chatted like old friends. He talked about meeting the year before and asked if they’d been good in the meantime.
When it was photo time, the eldest clambered straight onto his lap and wrapped two little arms around him in adoration.
I thought the eldest would be a total cynic about the Santa Claus thing. There had been lots of probing questions in the lead-up to our visit. But Real Santa was so impressive – he had chubby cheeks, twinkling eyes and a gentle manner that made you feel like he had all the time in the world to spend with you.
It was magic.
Mind you, as is often the case with real life, Christmas itself was a bit of a disaster … although it did snow!
After spending months prepping for Christmas with my new best friend Amazon, I was blindsided at the last moment by illness.
The youngest came down with a nasty virus on Christmas Eve and passed it straight on to me, so I had the dubious pleasure of watching my symptoms unfold in advance. Knowing that the next 24 hours would bring a barking cough, vomiting and misery was a little too much information.
Christmas morning dawned to the sound of the youngest tottering into our bedroom and demanding, between coughs, to watch some TV. She then clambered onto the sofa between two chockablock Santa sacks and sat, feverishly oblivious, between them.
I was tempted to laugh, but I felt too sorry for her, with her wan, white little face. What a miserable way to spend her third Christmas Day. She rallied bravely to unpack her booty, but couldn’t bring herself to scoff any of the sweet treats inside.
“Too sick, put in fridge for later,” she sighed.
Her face brightened when Santa came through with her requested dolly, and didn’t let it out of her sight after unpacking it.
But Dolly missed out on the “favourite present” spot. That went to a small, virulent green, vacuum-packed fluffy thing called a Schnooks that my sister sent from Australia.
I popped some headache tablets and started making Christmas lunch – roast chicken, garlic spinach, corn on the cob and baked potatoes.
But something was missing. I realised that it’s not what you serve on Christmas Day that makes the meal special, it’s the people you share it with. Christmas lunch needs to be noisy and shambolic and spent with as many extended family members as possible. Without that atmosphere, it’s just another meal.
Conversation during lunch revolved around what we’d do for Christmas next year – how we’d invite as many members of both our families to the table as we could. We’d feast on prawns and salad as the kids chased each other around the table and laughter filled the air …
All these years and a marriage separation later, I still get to spend my Christmases that way.
Well, the kids don’t chase each other around the table any more, but I still feel pretty lucky to have lots of laughter and family around me.
Song of the day: John Lennon “And so this is Christmas”