Terence Blacker: The shame that drives Santa down the chimney

'Your chosen career path suggests a certain personal restlessness: the dressing up, the whole stocking hang-up'
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"In this very special edition of the programme, I'm pleased to introduce someone who has become synonymous with this time of the year. He is both a truly international figure and yet a person whom we all treat almost as part of our own family. But, in a very real sense, we know little of the details of his own intimate life. In fact, this will be his first public interview. Welcome to In the Psychiatrist's Chair, Santa Claus."

"Yo ho ho, what have we here? A microphone, is it? What a lovely toy. But what do you really want for Christmas, sonny-me-lad? Have you posted your list yet? Have you cleaned the chimney? My reindeer don't like to get smuts on their little red noses, you know."

"Santa, this is an adult programme. You don't have to do all that stuff."

"Sorry. In that case, you won't mind if I slip off this ridiculous false beard."

"Of course not. But that reaction of yours was very interesting, wasn't it? One moment, you were all twinkly and full of seasonal chortles, the next you were just an average bloke. I was wondering if this is a case of what Laing called 'the divided self'. Essentially there are two Father Christmases – the jolly, roly-poly character and another, rather serious, private person."

"Sure. It's a thing called image. You have a problem with that?"

"Only in that personality fragmentation is understood to be psychologically damaging."

"Oh, here we go. Trust a bloody shrink to find something weird and dysfunctional about one of life's simple pleasures, the yuletide visit of Father Christmas."

"I was simply wondering about your own home life. Is it assumed back in the Claus household that that to be a good, proper father, you have to go around laughing, slapping your thighs and giving presents to everyone?"

"No comment. I have always made it clear that I was not going to allow press intrusion to drag my family into the limelight."

"But you are married. We can at least establish that."

"You can establish what you like. I'm not going to exploit my personal relationships to help my career."

"You seem to be implying that Father Christmas might not even be a father."

"I'm a figurative father, right – a metaphor. That doesn't mean that, in my private life, I have to be surrounded by screaming brats. Not all families are mom and pop and the kiddies these days. Let's get modern here."

"All right, so you're not married. Does your girlfriend mind..."

"No comment."

"Ah. So it's just possible that we could be talking about a gay Santa here."

"Let's say I cover the waterfront."

"Come to think of it, your chosen career path does suggest a certain personal restlessness – the dressing up, the roaming from house to house, the whole stocking hang-up, not to mention that obsession with chimneys, which my Freudian colleagues might see as..."

"Yeah, yeah. I thought you would latch on to the chimney thing. What you fail to realise is that my so-called chosen career path in fact involved no choice at all. As it happens, I always dreamt of being a graphic designer."

"And how old were you when you discovered that you had to become Santa Claus?"

"Thirteen. It was at the beginning of December, always a crazy time of the year in our house. My dad found me designing book covers rather than packing up the presents. He had quite a temper on him and he... he... I'm sorry about this."

"That's all right, Santa. Let it all come out. Crying's good. The listeners like a few tears..."

"So he and mummy agreed that I had to learn what Christmas was all about. Tough love, they called it. They tied me in a sack and put it on the sleigh, just behind the reindeer."

"But this is terrible. No wonder that your yo-ho-ho always sounds so melancholy and bitter. Your job obliges you to relive a time of great pain for you. When you dress up, you are, in a very real sense, concealing the essential you. You roam the world in search of the love that was denied you as a child."


"And yet it is all so brief – just a few days and it's over. Because, like Christmas, Santa comes but once a year."

"No comment."