There comes a time in a man's life when he is invited to do the Santa Gig. That is - to dress up in red suit, scratchy fake beard and cape to be presented to small wordless children and give them presents.
There is no size, age or jollyness dimension leading one to play Santa. It is like joining MI5 used to be in the good old days - you don't put yourself forward (that would be creepy), you are invited.
In my case, I was the last straw. The person playing Santa for my daughter's primary school fete had fallen off his sleigh and a replacement was needed at short notice.
My wife had volunteered me, sending me a text to that effect which I never received. She had not realised though when she went to help set up the fete that morning the extent of my hangover from the Christmas-do that I had attended the night before.
It was one of the hardest things anyone has said to me for sheer impact. I opened the front door to let her in and she said "Did you get my text message - you are playing Santa in 30 minutes".
I felt an abyss open up before me. I wanted to cry. She explained the position and I realised that there was no alternative.
As I walked to the Grotto, I kept hearing voices (never a good thing when you are about to play Santa) of teachers shouting "Dead, Man Walking" as I assumed the position by my Elf.
I was lucky. I had a sympathetic Elf. "Ask them what form they are in, what they want for Christmas, tell them they have been good and then give them a present".
I did what she suggested and it worked. And the more kids I did, the more I sobered up even going off piste in my narrative.
"An XBox...mmmm... no, you don't want that...what about a good book instead".
There are not many times in life one can declare that my Elf was my rock. But in that case, she was. I grew attached to her in my time in Grotto, wondering what Santa got up to once the Children had gone and the present were delivered. I realised though that I was getting into my character too much and anyway, it would never have worked.
I had tears, tantrums but once the kids had gone, I felt fine and ready to do it again. I had lost my Santa cherry.
The following year, I expected the same invitation but was told that the person who had been ill the previous year was going to be Santa. However, in the spirit of playground compromise, we could share (it was a primary school after all).
I was prepared this year and more importantly hangover free.
Arriving at the grotto at the required time, I approached Santa happily declaring I was there to take over.
He replied intransigently that he was having the full shift.
I saw red (with white fur edging around it) and shouted "Give me the beard, you Christmas Oaf" fortunately only in my imagination as I feared the headlines.
Perhaps the hardest thing was that my Elf had changed her allegiances. He was fatter, older and had a redder face after all. I was wounded and have felt strangely unfulfilled in the Yuletide stakes ever since.
This year, the invitations have dried up completely. I asked my wife who had the Santa Gig.
"I think it's the Liberal Democrat Councillor" she replied.
Oh the indignity of it. Being usurped by a politician doing the only give-away budget he will ever be able to do. This could influence voters for generations. "A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for Santa" and "If you vote Conservative, an Elf dies" will be new Manifesto commitments.
I am satisfied though that I have for one occasion worn the cape, felt the beard and heard the ungrateful child shout "Errrr...that's not a real beard". And my advice for all new wearers of the cape is have a good Elf, or maybe two if you are feeling greedy.
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