A couple of people at work have said to me recently “It just doesn’t feel like it’s going to be Christmas in a couple of weeks!”, but in this household we’ve been fully in the Christmas spirit since Ewan turned 6 at the end of September. (And he’d been talking about THAT since the previous Christmas.) We’ve had a heavily festooned tree since the real thing turned up at the local market on the last weekend in November, and have been watching “The Snowman” and “A Merry Pooh Year” to the point where we know them off by heart. Lego catalogues litter the house – once Sinterklaas/St Nicholas has been and gone with Ewan’s order, he will be deciding what he wants from Father Christmas. The whole business has got completely out of hand – one Christmas Day just isn’t enough when you’re an expat… And I’m not sure I can maintain the pretence that although Father Christmas’ other name is Santa Claus, he is an entirely different fellow from Sinterklaas, despite the improbable similarity of their names, garb and role. I make blunders as to their provenance and mode of transport, saying things like “We must leave carrots out for Sinterklaas’ reindeer, they’ll be tired after travelling all the way from the North Pole!” which prompts Ewan to correct me in a “silly mummy” kind of way with “but he comes from Spain on a boat! and he has a horse!” He definitely Still Believes – I wonder if he will this time next year?
I suppose it’s in Ewan’s interest not to ask too many awkward questions that might reveal a flimsily constructed tissue of, er, lies. He doesn’t shy away from the big issues though – what happens when we die has been one of his favourite topics for quite a while. On holiday in Spain over Toussaint with a friend and her 7-year-old son Oliver, we visited a church in Spain where both boys gazed lengthily in appalled fascination at gruesome depictions of Jesus on the cross, and in particular at a statue of St Sebastian with bloody arrows sticking out of his torso. All this required explaining. There then ensued a conversation about whether there was a God with whom we would reside in heaven for eternity, or whether we would be reincarnated. I was amazed when Oliver nonchalantly referred to the latter possibility and seemed thoroughly au fait with the idea. It was a new concept for Ewan and generated much discussion as to what we might possibly be reincarnated as (donkey, bird, tree?).
Sometimes I wish he was just having a straightforward conventional Irish upbringing where he’d be as familiar with the Baby Jesus as he is with his best friend (my mother is aghast that he doesn’t know all about him, the former I mean), and I wouldn’t have to try and explain why Jesus died on the cross… He and his Dad don’t seem to have figured at all yet in Ewan’s “Zedenleer” or civics class, which he’s just started now that he’s in primary one. I have to admit that (brainwashed as I am) I agonised over the decision about whether to have him receive Catholic instruction or follow Zedenleer, but actually I’m glad we chose the latter. The emphasis is on tolerance, openness and making up your own mind, and the kiddies will at some stage be learning about the different religious traditions. Meanwhile, Ewan will soon be seeing the Crib in the Grand Place and no doubt in other locations, particularly in Ireland – and his year he’s asking a LOT more questions about everything. So I’d best be prepared. There’ll soon be Easter to explain (although we did cover that too in the Jesus conversation described above). I suppose I would just like him to know there is a deeper significance to these festivals and that it’s not ALL ABOUT PRESENTS AND CHOCOLATE! How do other people approach these spiritual/existential matters? Answers on a post (card), please!