At six, I realised there was no Santa. How deep did the lies go?

I had a lot of existential questions. What is death? What if the dead wake in their coffins? And who was going to deliver my presents: Santa, God or Rabindranath Tagore?

Christmas was always such a magical time for me when I was young, and the beginning of December 1970, filled with excitement and anticipation, was no different. I was six and though I had already figured out there was no Santa, I didn’t quite understand how presents materialised in the pillowcase annually hung from the post of my upper bunk bed. My parents were adamant about Santa’s existence, but my friends and older brothers had confirmed the awful, heart-wrenching, nihilistic truth of my suspicions.

There were a lot of other existential questions in my mind that year. What was death? Did people seriously spend eternity in a box buried underground? What if they woke up? At school, the alternative of an eternity in heaven was presented by our overtly Christian teacher and, on balance, heaven definitely sounded preferable to an afterlife of maggot-ridden decomposition. The caveat of complete faith and devotion to a bearded man who floated on a cloud seemed a small price to pay for everlasting bliss. God even looked a lot like Santa, only his beard was more straggly and his suit less fun. Maybe God delivered the presents. Sorted. Roll on Christmas.

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