Santa Pause – An Irishman’s Diary about children growing up (and cats moving out)

 “The house would now now be devoid of four-legged life, except that, in a not unrelated development, at least one mouse has moved in recently”

“The house would now now be devoid of four-legged life, except that, in a not unrelated development, at least one mouse has moved in recently”


For the first time in 17 years, it looks like Santa Claus may not be coming down our chimney this Christmas.

There is still some doubt about the matter, but it’s mostly mine, because the 11-year-old who would have been the main beneficiary took me gently aside some weeks ago and broke the news that he was now a lapsed believer.

Beer and biscuits

Before I could reach for my “Yes Virginia” editorial, he told me he’d been sceptical last year as well. And sure enough, I remembered the too-knowing manner in which he left out the craft beer (Santa’s favourite brand) and biscuits 12 months ago. Clearly, it wasn’t just the beer that had been designed for parental consumption.  

But this belated confirmation was in keeping with the traumas of 2016. It was as if the baby of the house had invoked Article 50 to begin unilateral withdrawal from childhood.  

So, pathetically, I made the case for Remain. He might have his doubts about Santa, I said, but if Santa still believed in him, he would probably turn up anyway. Not even the Supreme Court could stop it.

Alas, I know that we have crossed a line, and there is no going back. An era of innocence has ended.  

Soon, I will have only fading memories of the wide-eyed wonder with which my children once used to scan the Argos catalogue while drawing up their Christmas lists.

In fairness to the 11-year-old, he’s still using Argos this year, out of respect for tradition.  

If anything, his expectations have only increased now that the gift giving is no longer restricted by the Scandinavian socialist model.  

Or maybe he just senses that certain people may be in the mood to overcompensate.


Anyway, as if I wasn’t sad enough already, I had to go shopping recently for a fake beard, and it wasn’t for me.

The same 11-year-old was playing Fagin in his school’s production of Oliver.  

So I had to buy him a strip of theatrical hair (sold by the half-metre in all the best joke-shops).

And complete with the sort of facial accessory you can stroke while thinking devious thoughts, he duly immersed himself in the role of ringleader of a scheme whereby children deprive adults of their wealth.

This may have been bad timing.


If he does fail to arrive this year, Santa will not be the only conspicuous absentee. For most of the same period he has been a visitor, we also had at least one cat. For the past four Christmases, we had two. But this summer, the ancient one of the pair made that trip to the vet’s from which no traveller returns. Then, within weeks, the younger one – a bog orphan called Pete Briquette – disappeared. 


It’s possible that Pete’s life, which had revolved around attacking the old cat every day, lost all meaning when he no longer had to compete for food.

In any case, he wandered off one morning in August, so far without trace.  

The house would now now be devoid of four-legged life, except that, in a not unrelated development, at least one mouse has moved in recently.  

This would never have happened under Pete’s watch.  

A remorseless killer, he would have quickly caught the first rodent and tortured a confession out of it about where the rest, if any, were. Instead, the rustles behind the skirting board now only highlight his absence.

We especially missed Pete the night I brought the Christmas tree home. In previous years, he was always at least as excited about the tree as the children were. Indeed, unlike them, he would insist on sleeping under it.  

In a way, Pete had become the real child of the house. He reacted to everything new with wide-eyed wonder and, as a bonus, couldn’t read the Argos catalogue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll be turning up this Christmas either.

Colonial throwback

There’s a controversial tradition in the Netherlands whereby St Nicholas is accompanied on his gift-giving missions by a sidekick called “Black Pete”.  

He used to be the bad cop to Santa’s good one. Now he’s just a fun-loving accessory, although still a colonial throwback.

Well, suffice to say, if our Black Pete were to return again this weekend, it would make everyone’s Christmas (except the mouse’s). It would be a miracle of 34th Street proportions, I know. But maybe, just for old time’s sake, we’ll leave a saucer of milk out, alongside the beer and biscuits.