Did newsreaders always report on Santa’s journey?

Donald Clarke: I can’t imagine Walter Cronkite or Don Cockburn doing such a thing

We begin with a warning. There will, in this column, be mention of Santa Claus. Members of the Won’t Somebody Think of the Children? society may wish to hide the newspaper from little Caoibhe. We won’t be following the accepted seasonal guidelines.

There are, for those of us who refuse to be “good sports”, uncomfortable pressures throughout the year. Few parties go by without someone trying to make you dance. “Have a bop! You know you want to,” they say with the wild-eyed stare of the permanently elated. Not until you are physically incapable of leaving your chair will you be set free from the terpsichorean evangelist (maybe not even then). If you felt embarrassed dancing as a teenager, there is little chance you will feel relaxed about the business in middle age. Shut up and leave me alone.

There is always someone suggesting you’d really enjoy a palm reading or a skydive or a sponsored bath of beans. Take all my money. Take every penny. Just don’t ask me to do anything to establish my status as a good sport.

If there is any upside to the ongoing pandemic it is the relative decline in such pestering. Should anyone coerce you into emerging from the comfort zone during a Zoom meet-up you can make stuttering noises and pull out the cord on the modem. “Awfully sorry,” you write later. “The line went down just as you tried to get us all singing She Moved Through the Fair.”


It is, for most of the world, an awful thing that massed gatherings have been curtailed, but for those of us who dread the host brandishing a guitar there are some upsides. No singalongs. No charades.

The Santa Lobby is still working hard to root the cynics from their lairs

The pressure is never greater than at Christmas. We must don the paper crown and read out the joke from the cracker. We must make tolerant remarks about Christmas jumpers at the office party. At least we had to do those things last year. The plague has granted some respite.

Yet escape is not total. The Santa Lobby is still working hard to root the cynics from their lairs. Did newsreaders always report on the safe passage of Santa's sled across the northern tundra? I can't imagine Walter Cronkite or Robert Dougall or Don Cockburn doing such a thing. Maybe they did. Maybe false memory syndrome is creating an idyllic fictional past in which the establishment did not mollycoddle children.

It goes (almost) right to the top. A few weeks ago Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, took time out from an incredibly busy year to reassure children that the pandemic would not inconvenience Father Christmas. "Santa is exempt from this because Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of good innate immunity," Fauci told USA Today. Eight months spent squabbling with a stupider, lazier version of Ebenezer Scrooge could send any of us crackers, but surely Dr Fauci has better things to do with his time.

Have these people no grit? Are there no prisons? Are the Union workhouses no longer in operation?

There was a bit of this in Ireland at the end of November. Addressing the Dáil, Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs, alleviated fears that Mr Christmas (as the New York Times surely calls him) might be restricted in his seasonal movements.

"We have been working on the Santa Claus issue for a number of weeks," Coveney  reported. "It is important to point out to all children in the country that we regard the travels of Santa Claus as essential travel for essential purpose." Would Lord Palmerston have made such a speech to the House of Lords? Would John Foster Dulles have taken time out from the cold war to assure the midwest that no ICBMs would take down the big man's sled as he passed over Alaska?

The shrinking of the collective brain has infantilised us all. This stuff isn’t charming. It’s not harmless. It offers evidence that humans are now afraid to put away childish things and embrace the grim responsibilities of adulthood. Have these people no grit? Are there no prisons? Are the Union workhouses no longer in operation? Are the Treadmill and Poor Law not still in full vigour? If they would rather die they had better do it and decrease the surplus population…

Hang on. I have come over a little faint. I slide from the divan. A vision rises before me. It is the Ghost of Varadkar Past. "[My] least favourite is A Christmas Carol — Tiny Tim should get a job," he is telling me (and The Irish Times in 2007). Let me not be thus. Not thus, spirit!

The medical experts, the foreign ministers and the weathercasters are surely right to put little Tim at his ease. I have had no young person to console. I may never be a good sport, but I will vow to scowl less at the well-meaning pretence. May that be said of us all. God bless us, every one!