Our two older sons quite enjoyed travelling into London by train at Christmas time. Hamley’s Toy Store was their very favorite, and Paddington Bear was on the top of their list during our family’s first Christmas living in England in the early 1980’s.
There’s something simply magical about Christmas in England. It truly is very Dickensonian with its decor of evergreen, holly, tiny cobbled alleyways, plum pudding, children’s pantomimes, etc.
During our second Christmas over there, Tim, our third son, was a toddler and oftened travelled on the train with me.
I would buy him a stale bun with icing upon it from the baker’s shop, and he would quietly gnaw away on the trip to Guildford…my next favorite city outside of London.
Guildford had a large new shopping mall, and "Father Christmas" was settled in (on the second floor) in his "grotto," preparing for the coming of the wee folk.
The grotto was a tiny cardboard-style hut and was situated precariously next to the overlook of the first floor of the mall. It was half my size (I am 5′ 10" tall), but I proceeded to take my Tim out of his stroller and we pushed our way past long colorful and shiny streamers into the grotto, hoping to chat with dear old "Father Christmas."
Now Father Christmas differs from Santa Claus in that he wears a long floor-length cloak with an ominous hood attached. Still, he held a warm place in every child’s heart, did he not?
As we entered the grotto, we could barely see two feet in front of us. It was pitch black. My little guy held onto my neck with a stranglehold I shall never forget.
As we edged towards the back of the grotto, both mother and son took notice of the dark and looming creature with its arms outstretched towards us.
That was enough for my little Tim. In terror, he let out a shriek that could be heard miles away. I had no idea that a small child of his age could reach such pitch!
Tim pushed himself out of my arms as I tried to hold onto him tightly. I found myself trying to maintain my balance by standing straight up; thus, carrying the cardboard grotto atop of my head! Father Christmas grabbed onto us both…I think he truly thought we all (including that grotto) were going to crash over the side railing and down onto the first floor!
With all of my might, I carried Tim and we ran out of the grotto, quickly down the escalator, and out of that mall.
Tiny Tim was certainly not impressed (nor endeared) with this beloved seasonal icon of comfort and joy.
After that afternoon, I wondered to myself if Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Belsnickle…whomever…would ever be the same in both of our minds.
"God Bless Us Everyone!"