Santa, Meet Satan

22/12/2014 12:15 | Updated 22 May 2015

distraught little boy with santaGetty

Nothing says Christmas quite like a mother waking up her peacefully sleeping toddler in the middle of a café and shouting in his face: "WAKE UP! WAKE UP! We're going to see SANTA! NOW! WAKE UP! We're late! We're going to see SANTA! It's going to be FUN! WAKE UP! It's EXCITING!" The toddler looking as bewildered and panic-stricken as the reindeer on the front of his jumper.

I'm ashamed to say that woman was me; that small child was my son.

Rewind five minutes, I had just arrived at the Horniman Museum to meet my friend, Karen, and her little boy, Ruben. She had texted me a couple of weeks earlier to say she was booking a slot to see Santa and did we fancy joining.

I'd already made an executive decision not to bother taking Elliot to see Santa on the grounds that he barely knows how to say Santa – let alone understand the abstract concept of a fat bloke in a red suit who travels the entire world in one night, breaking into people's homes and sneaking into the bedrooms of unsuspecting children, offering them gifts.

It didn't seem worth it for the obligatory photo of terrified child crying on Santa's lap. What's more, Elliot appears to have entered that worrying 'hitting' phase. To be fair, he mostly smacks inanimate objects (and me) but I didn't fancy getting lumbered with a lawsuit from the man in red.

However, I was keen to see Karen and Ruben – and it was our last chance to catch up before Christmas so I thought, "Oh, what the heck! What could possibly go wrong?"

This is what could possibly go wrong. And did...

We arranged to get there half an hour early to give ourselves time to have lunch while the boys had a nap. Unfortunately, it was only when Karen went to dig out the tickets that she realised she had misread the time. We didn't have half an hour, after all – we had half a minute.

Given Santa's tight Christmas Eve delivery schedule, it struck me that he was probably a stickler for good timekeeping. So to avoid a telling off we'd have to get those boys awake and ready for action, fast.

They'd understand. This was for them, after all, right?


Cue the sight of two buggies travelling faster than Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, their startled passengers bumped around as they hurtle towards the cotton wool-clad grotto like a pair of beleaguered reindeer.


As it happens, we needn't have bothered. We got there just in the nick of time to discover Father Christmas wasn't such a good timekeeper after all. There was a queue.

On the upside, this bought us a few minutes for the boys to 'come round' from their blissful slumber and have a quick run-around to burn off any excess energy before entering the small log cabin that was Santa's grotto.

In light of his rude awakening, Elliot was in remarkably good spirits. Perhaps this wasn't going to be such a waste of time after all. Maybe, just maybe, he would enjoy the experience.

As we joined the queue I was even beginning to feel quite excited – perhaps it was the anticipation on the faces of the rosy-cheeked children ahead of us in the queue.

But, hang on – where was Elliot? I ran around the back of the grotto to catch him just as he was about to burst through the curtains of the tradesman's entrance, bypassing the queue entirely. It was a bit like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto tugs at the curtain revealing that the Wizard is just some ordinary bloke, after all.

Thankfully Santa was busy handing out presents to some patient children who'd used the traditional queueing system – not sitting alone on a fag break, scratching his nuts.

I grabbed Elliot by the jumper to prevent him going in. And this was the second mistake of the day.

Yes, that's right. It was one of those really big screams where his face goes purple and his mouth opens as wide as is physically possible and for a moment he is completely silent. And that is the worst part because you know he is just taking the biggest possible breath to allow for the longest, loudest scream imaginable.

Everybody – not just in the queue but in the adjoining cafe, too – stopped and stared. I could swear the jaunty Christmas song playing in the background dramatically screeched to a halt as though the needle had just skidded across the record.


All that could be heard now was Elliot's blood-curdling wail. Ebenezer himself could not have done a better job of killing that festive spirit stone dead.


I somehow managed to locate a biscuit faster than the speed of light (mother's survival instinct) and promptly shoved it in his mouth. But for the first time ever the biscuit strategy didn't work – instead he just took a quick bite and continued at the same pitch but this time with an attractive show of biscuit mulch.

For fear of the domino effect (Elliot's cry can reduce every child within a five-mile radius to tears), I was just about to whisk him out when he stopped as instantaneously as he started. The silence was bliss.

He had made his point.

The frosty atmosphere quickly melted and the general hubbub of excitement resumed. The moment was forgotten. Goodwill to all men (even little noisy ones) and all that.

The rest of the visit went pretty smoothly – if you class Elliot refusing to sit on Santa's lap and throwing his present across the grotto in a huff, as smoothly.

Relieved to get Elliot away from Santa and his disgruntled helpers, we decided to take the boys to the museum aquarium before heading home. And that was when Elliot's festive spirit finally kicked in. I've never seen him so excited. He ran around from tank to tank, shouting "Fish! Fish! Fish!".

I'm not quite sure why I was surprised that a 19-month-old boy would be more interested in hundreds of brightly coloured tropical fish than a fat bloke in a fake beard. Perhaps, next year will be different. When he finds out that the fat bloke is the one delivering all those Christmas presents.

Or perhaps the moral of this tale is don't wake up your son mid-nap for enforced fun.

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