Paul Burston: Santa Claus isn't coming to town

I used not to believe in Christmas. I mean, I knew it happened. The fake tree and the silver tinsel saw to that. And I can't pretend that I didn't like the presents. What child doesn't? But I never believed that any of this really meant anything. Long before I stopped believing in Jesus, I'd already given up on Father Christmas. My mother has a photo, taken when I was six, with me sitting on Santa's lap surrounded by toys in plastic packaging and looking less than impressed. Mum says I was a difficult child even then. I say I was too clever to be taken in by such an obvious fraudster. Any fool could see that this wasn't Father Christmas at all, but a man from down our road in a cheap beard.

Looking back, I think my disenchantment with Christmas began when I first realised that I was different from other boys. You internalise a lot of negativity as a queer child, and by the time I was six I'd internalised more than my fair share. I didn't know that I was gay – I didn't know what "gay" was – but I knew that I was different. The boys who bullied me at school knew too. They were calling me a poof long before any of us understood what a poof was. My father understood, though. If I came home crying because some lad or other had beaten me up in the playground, he didn't offer to visit the school or talk to the boy's parents. He threatened to hit me too. That was the extent of his parenting skills. I don't know how good a dad Father Christmas was supposed to be. Was he even married? Did he have children of his own? But he couldn't have been any worse than mine. My parents' marriage was not a happy one. Not for them, and certainly not for me.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, though. At the age of seven I appeared in the school Nativity play dressed as one of the three wise men. By now, I was wise enough to know that the tale of the Virgin Mary was about as believable as that of Show White. But I did like the costume. My mother was a whizz with the sewing machine and had run me up a red velvet robe from one of her old dresses. I liked the way the cuffs hung over my hands. I liked the crown, too, even if it was made from cardboard and covered in tin foil. My mother could be very inventive when she put her mind to it. She was skilled in the art of making something from nothing. I like to think that I did her proud that night. I wore the robe well. I recited my lines. One teacher told me I gave a good performance. Another found it a little too "festive".

Back at home, the festivities were left largely to my mother. It was her job to create the illusion of a happy Christmas, and to play the part of Santa. When I was a boy, strange men didn't come sneaking into the house in the middle of the night bearing gifts. They went sneaking out of the house having affairs. By now my father was a stranger to me, and getting stranger all the time. Once, when I was eight, I woke up in the middle of the night, terrified and alone. My mother was a nurse, and was working through the night at the local hospital. My father was nowhere to be found. I searched the house, careful not to wake my six-year-old sister. Panic-stricken, I ran down the street to a neighbour's house. A few hours later my father appeared, insisting that he'd been at home all along. I didn't believe him. Neither did my mother. He left shortly afterwards, and moved in with another woman and her teenage daughter. I can't say I envied them much.

My fondest Christmas memory came when I was 10. My parents were divorced, my mother had remarried, and we'd moved out of our smart bungalow and into a dilapidated terraced house purchased for the grand sum of £3,500. It was what was known as a "fixer-upper", and fixing it up took a little longer than my stepfather planned. As Christmas approached, the kitchen was far from complete. One "wall" consisted of a plastic sheet, and the floor was dug out to a depth of three feet to allow for new pipes to be laid. We ate our turkey dinner off garden furniture suspended on scaffolders' planks. It was the best Christmas I'd ever had.

Paul Burston's next novel, 'The Gay Divorcee', will be published in May by Sphere

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all