You don't still believe in Christmas experts, do you?

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The Independent Online
As this is our last appearance before Christmas, I have asked a Christmas expert to tackle all your queries and problems about Christmas before they actually happen. All yours, expert!

Is there any way of stopping needles falling off Christmas trees?

Our expert writes: Well, never forget that a Christmas tree, even after it has been cut, is still a natural object and obeys natural laws. Petals fall off cut flowers, bananas go black and oranges go ripe. Even the toughest timbers rot away, and one day all stone will crumble. So it is not surprising that Christmas trees drop their needles - it would be miraculous if they did not. The expert on this is the Forestry Commission, which has something like ten million Christmas trees growing on its property,and I have been in touch with the Commission to ask if its Christmas trees stop dropping needles around Christmas time.

"No, Mr Expert," is what I was told. "Day in, day out, during the festive period, our trees drop zillions of needles every day on our forest floor. You can imagine how we feel when we get up every morning and see the mess. `Looky here, Mr Christmas Tree,' we say, `can you imagine how we feel when we get up every morning and see our nice clean forest floor covered in your zillions of needles? Do you have any idea how long it's going to take us to get the forest floor clear again by morning? Do you t hinkwe set up the Forestry Commission just so that our nice forest floor can be ruined by trillions of nasty, sticky, prickly little needles?' "

So what's the answer?

Our expert writes: Well, at this stage the Forestry Commission tends to burst into tears and start sniffling, so it's hard to make out what it's saying. But I gather that it's kinda lonely out there with all those Christmas trees, and those Forestry Commissioners get real lonesome when it comes to Christmas time, and they have all these doggone Christmas trees and not a single present under any of them. It's enough to drive a man to drink. Which is why you find so many Forestry Commissioners propping upthe bar come Yuletime. Yes, sir.

At what age should young people be told that Father Christmas does not exist?

Our expert writes: They should never be told. They should be left to work it out for themselves. Were you ever told? I think not. What happened was that you gradually moved from the class of people who believe in Father Christmas to the class of people who don't, like joining a new club or being promoted. It just happened, like puberty or dandruff. The loss of belief in Father Christmas is assuaged by the feeling that you worked out his non-existence for yourself, and didn't depend on some know-all grown-up to tell you.

Besides, nobody ever really gives up believing in Father Christmas. Even when you know there isn't one, you still go on behaving as if there was one. Who talks most about Father Christmas, the children who believe or the grown-ups who don't? The grown-ups, of course. "What's Father Christmas going to bring you?" they say. "Have you written your letter to Father Christmas?" or "If you're naughty or don't go to sleep, Father Christmas won't come." On and on they go, talking about Father Christmas the whol e time, even though they know perfectly well that he doesn't exist.

Then they have the cheek to turn round and say to people about their little child: "He still believes in Father Christmas, you know!" Well of course he still bloody believes in Father Christmas! You've made him do it. You taught him to believe in Father Christmas. And do you know why you taught him? Because you still believe in Father Christmas! Oh yes you do, deep down. Not in the way you used to, but in a different way - in the way that atheists still believe in God. Oh yes they do. Atheists and humanists often talk more about God than believers do, because the God they don't believe in is very important to them, more important often than God is to believers ...

You're a damned funny kind of Christmas expert. Are you really a Christmas expert?

You don't still really believe in Christmas experts, do you? Surely you're old enough to know better. There are no Christmas experts! All experts are just ordinary grown-ups dressed up in experts' costumes! What would a Christmas expert do the rest of the year? Why, Lord bless you, I'm just a humble journalist dressed up as a Christmas expert! Next week I'm a Christmas sales expert and after that a winter sports expert ... And after that you're fired. Sorry about that, readers. Service back to normal nextweek. Meanwhile, Happy Christmas!