We’ve spent much of December thinking our son has gotten the Christmas bug, but we also wonder if we’re just trying to convince ourselves. His interest in anything we try to force is usually quite limited, but something as complex and specific as Christmas is all the harder. He’s not even particularly au fait with more standard special occasions. During his last birthday, we tricked ourselves into thinking he really understood what was going on as he walked around displaying his piece of cake and shouting ‘my buthday!’
He undercut this sense, however, by proclaiming several further birthdays for himself in the months that followed, including mine, each of his friends’, and several of his cousins’. Sometimes he just presumes it is his birthday if he’s having a nice time. ‘Buthday?’ he said one random August day, relaxing with a tiny gelato cone after a stroll in the park. He said this in such a sweet, plaintive tone, we worried it made him look so deprived, so unaccustomed to kind treatment, that a walk in the park or a small scoop of ice-cream reaches festive proportions.
Whatever he makes of the true meaning of the season, he does like the accoutrements of Christmas, or ‘kissmiss’ as he prefers to call it, especially trees (‘kissmisstees’) and presents (‘kissmisspezzints’) – . Having been slow to speak during the first lockdown, his vocabulary has exploded in the past two months, and he gets real joy from showing off every word he knows, with both the above among his favourites, behind a few accidental swear words and, of course, ‘santakoss’ – his favourite neologism of 2020.
Irish Christmas traditions are mostly the same as English ones, but with a few subtle differences. We both love wine, woollens and song, but Irish people say ‘Santa’ rather than ‘Father Christmas’ because we’re not absurd, Victorian orphans. The influence of the Catholic church means we call the day after Christmas ‘St Stephen’s’ rather than Boxing Day. And our lack of a rabid, right-wing press means we settled the question of whether Fairytale of New York’s slur should be edited – yes – and got on with our lives, rather than installing the debate as a yearly tradition for red-faced men on talk radio.
My son is no different. His love for Santa grew not from last year’s trip to our local grotto – cancelled because he got scared – but from a small, shiny book we bought in a petrol station.
It features an off-brand, googly-eyed Santa who announces his presence with a barely rhyming series of verses that appear to have been written at speed using Google Translate. ‘Hoh-hoh-hoh!’ it proclaims, as if the correct spelling of Santa’s laugh was a copyright they were trying to evade. My son repeats it back, before asking about trees, presents and reindeer. Finally, we think to ourselves, the boy has discovered the true meaning of kissmiss.
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