Could there be a scarier time for parents than Christmas Eve? I love it, but it terrifies me.
At bedtime on Christmas Eve, the kids lay out their raggle tangle assortment of sacks and stockings ready for Father Christmas (none of them match – as they were all bought on an ad-hoc basis as the kids came along). The lounge is hoovered and tidy, because I would hate Santa to see it in a mess.
When my son was 2, he decided Father Christmas would like a cup of tea to drink. So that’s what he has. None of the kids have ever worried about the tea going cold. Just before they go to bed, Daddy makes the tea – in a Denby cup and saucer, no chipped mug for Santa. It is placed on the fireplace with a mince pie (or even two if they’re the mini ones) and a carrot for Rudolph. The kids have a photo by the tree with their stocking and they go to bed.
Remarkably, the kids go to bed very well on Christmas Eve. Far better than they do on any other day of the year. Under normal circumstances, my boys are awake until about 10, but on Christmas Eve they are often asleep before 9. I have told them so many horror stories – of Father Christmas not coming if they are awake and also of feeling dreadful because they would be so tired, as I used to do myself every year without fail, that fear sends then to sleep.
Nevertheless, I am on tenterhooks. I cannot relax. I try to watch telly, I try to find something to do, but I am counting down the minutes until it’s time for Father Christmas to do his thing.
About 10.30, my husband suggests it should be safe. I am still unsure. Father Christmas drinks his tea and eats his mince pies and Rudolph has a few bites of the carrot. Well maybe we could just get some of the things out? What if they need the toilet, though? They never need the toilet.
Around this time, Grandma and Grandpa Elf creep in quietly to drop off yet more presents. A very tense moment for all – the potential for four of us to be caught red-handed in the possession of bagfuls of presents is almost too scary for me to bear.
Grandma and Grandpa Elf go home and one elf hovers in the lounge as the other elf quietly (not that quietly if it’s Daddy Elf) empties the cupboard. Once the cupboard is empty, it’s time for the biggest challenge of all.
It’s like a military operation. Exactly like the elves on Arthur Christmas, if you’ve seen it. Go-go-go. As quickly and as quietly as possible, the presents are shifted downstairs and into the sacks and stockings. Mummy Elf tries to hover round the lounge just in case, Daddy Elf thinks Mummy Elf should help move stuff to speed things up. This is the real test of Mummy Elf’s filing systems – has everything really been grouped together for ease, or has anything slipped through the net – into another hiding place or the wrong bag? Inevitably, it always has.
The process takes about 20 minutes. At the end of it, Mummy and Daddy Elf take a few seconds to admire their handiwork – maybe adjust a present in a sack to make it look more enticing -then close the lounge door, breathe a sigh of relief and go upstairs to bed. It is late and the bells for midnight mass are ringing. They are looking at a maximum of six hours’ sleep. But four and a half would probably suffice.