The Day Father Christmas died – Peju Akande

The Day Father Christmas died – Peju Akande

I was in my kitchen sweating over a pan of oil.

I was frying chicken for Christmas, when my neighbour’s son sent me reeling with laughter.

The 7 year old has since discovered Santa isn’t real and had decided on the best way to utilize the money his mother had planned on spending to visit Santa’s grotto. I heard him negotiating with his mum over the cost of taking him to see Santa vs the cost of getting him an Xbox. He concluded, “…the last Santa was just smelling in his father Christmas uniform…”

That one was a sharp one.

Growing up, I didn’t even understand the full concept of Santa, no make that “Father Christmas”, cos that’s what we grew up knowing in this part of the world. I grew up believing Father Christmas always rewarded good behavior; I thought him to be some good and kind spirit-being hovering over us kids all year round and when Christmas came, he would come down to reward us with fun gifts, particularly those of us who had been mostly good. He was never, to my mind, someone who wore uniforms and was paid to be nice to us kids. I didn’t even know my parents parted with money before I got any gift from all the Father Christmases I visited.

Mother always took us to Leventis stores in those days to see Father Christmas. He was always a well fed man with a fat face and wool for a beard. His red and white “costume” was always clean and smelled fresh. I still remember his smell, like lavender.

ekiti

I was to be stripped of my childish notions the year I turned 8 or 9, not quite sure now. That year, mother had to be with father in Kaduna, who was then on transfer there, so she shipped us kids to her aunt’s place for Christmas. Her Aunt took us to see some poorly clad Father Christmas that some church in the neighbourhood had organized for kids in that area.

At the makeshift grotto, I waited my turn on the queue to sit on Father Christmas’s lap. When I finally got in, as there were like a million kids also waiting to see him, I was too shocked to move towards him. This Father Christmas was no Father Christmas at all. He had removed his beard, his cap and his red and white woolen shirt was half unbuttoned baring his stringy hairy chest as he fanned himself with an old newspaper. To worsen matters, I saw he was sneaking a cigarette on the side.

Haba fada!

kids

My Father Christmas notions had been stripped bare, literally. I never got over that.

Years after, a variant of this scene played out during one of the birthday parties I held for my son. We had hired a dj who came with two characters; the reigning character then was Barney and Ben 10, I think.

Our Barney was a short man who was made to wear this huge and stuffy Barney costume and apparently, whoever made the costume had forgotten to create holes for the wearer to breathe through. Barney man soon had to fight off the kids clinging to him so he could hurry to the back of the tent we had erected for the party; the poor man needed to take off the huge head he was wearing so he could breathe.

Of course,  a few kids had followed him, screaming and wanting to be held. I will never forget their shocked expressions upon seeing Barney stripped with a back-off scowl on his face. You should have heard some of the kids bawling at the stripped Barney, they just couldn’t believe it was this mean looking guy who was wearing their beloved Barney costume. Even I couldn’t tell him to pull his head back on because I could see that the costume almost killed him.

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