Christmas is a special time, especially for children.
It’s a magical time, filled with laughter, joy and happiness. A time of stories about Father Christmas, talking reindeer and elves who make toys.
It’s a time we remember the Nativity story and when school children put plays on for parents. Like the Nativity in Love Actually. The one with a lobster in the crib scene!
It’s a time when families get together and eat too much, drink too much and watch Home Alone, yet again!
It’s a time when children stay up late, hoping to glimpse Santa and wondering how he’s going to leave presents when their house has no chimney.
Then on Christmas morning, children wake up earlier than they have done all year, desperate to know what’s underneath the tree for them, wondering if that one special toy will be there. The one that’s been in tv adverts since July. The one scribbled on their Christmas list.
Despite it still being night-time outside, children everywhere can’t wait to get up, go downstairs and check which presents have their name written on them. Some written on tags, some written on the wrapping paper itself. Wrapping paper they’ll rip off in one go so that the actual present can be got at as quickly as possible.
But there are some children who don’t wake up early. Who stay in bed for as long as possible. Who see Christmas Day as just another reminder that their dad is missing. Missing because he’s working away, keeping the family fed from a distance, in a job that’s not 9-5. A job like those in the forces, like those working in hospitals, or in one of those 24/7 jobs which keep the cogs of the world turning.
For those children, Christmas can be a sad day. Christmas dinner can be a time of tears instead of tinsel and crackers. And for those children, Christmas present opening is just that bit less exciting.
Later in life, those children will understand why their dad was missing at Christmas, why they couldn’t be home on Christmas Day. Why they couldn’t be there to watch Home Alone again. Understanding that will come later, but for now, it just hurts.
So, despite Christmas being that special time for all, for some children, it’s also tinged with sadness about the father who’s missing. That real father they’d rather be there than the chubby, jolly one with the big white beard and the red and white suit.
So how do I know about such children and how they feel on Christmas Day?
Well, it’s quite simple, really – I was one.
I was a child whose father was missing at Christmas. Who was missing at Christmas and Easter and Birthdays. Who was missing as well on those scary first days of the new school year. Missing because he was at sea, Captaining cargo ships across the oceans.
But one Christmas he was there. One Christmas he’d come home. He was there on Christmas morning and there at Christmas Dinner, carving the turkey and joking about Brussel sprouts. He was there, and it was the best Christmas ever. The best Christmas present I’d ever had and have had ever since.
He was my Father Christmas, and his presence meant more than any other present ever could.