Christmas is almost upon us, as is that moment when millions of parents are steeling themselves to face the big Yuletide question: do their children still believe in Father Christmas?
It's a dilemma, alright. Should you leave the half-chewed carrot, the mince pie crumbs and the half-drunk glass of milk beside the fireplace this year? If you don't and the children ask why not, it might seem like you've betrayed them. If you do and they ask why, you're likely to feel a little silly.
Of course, the dilemma may not even arise. Playground talk tends to shatter many a child's illusions about Santa, while other children simply work out the truth for themselves. No harm is done in the breaking of the myth. The only consequence of note is the unspoken agreement that from now on your kids will be getting clothes for Christmas.
But for those parents of younger children, who wish to preserve the myth and the magic of Santa for as long as possible, there are challenges to be faced. Maybe we're living in a more cynical world, but there does appear to be a growing band of so-called 'realists' out there; such people seem to find it necessary to question why any child should be exposed to the story of a fat man in red pyjamas who flies about the sky dropping presents down chimneys.
Well, put like that, they may have a point. Until you turn their logic back on themselves and ask if they have ever read a fictional novel or watched a fantasy film – or, indeed, read a fairy tale to their own offspring. Taking it a step further – how could they not believe in Father Christmas yet happily listen to the weather forecasts?
It so happens that the new Hobbit film is now on general release. I wonder what those Santa "deniers" would think if I were to stand outside the cinema, loudhailer in hand, bellowing at the emerging crowds: "Don't believe any of it – those hobbits aren't real!" And doesn't Gandalf look just like Santa, albeit a little slimmer?
Childhood is a time of make-believe, magic and myth. Those invisible friends that so many children have – deep down, aren't they, in their innocent way, well aware that's it's just fantasy? And they surely know that Peter Pan can't really fly either – does that stop them from enjoying JM Barrie's timeless story? Dragons, Buzz Lightyear, Harry Potter, the tooth fairy – in such glorious company, why is there a need to single out Father Christmas for questioning?
Let us leave our children to work out for themselves what is real and what isn't. Give them the time to wallow in childhood. Making Father Christmas a huge part of it will, in adulthood, allow them to better convey the magic in the re-telling of Santa's tale to their own children.
Oh, and a parting word of advice. After you've placed the presents under the tree, hide the wrapping paper well away from young eyes. Using the same patterned paper as Santa is a giveaway. That's when my own children found out – and why they started getting clothes for Christmas.
A gruesome conclusion from a fact I spotted in the new quiz book from BBC TV's QI programme:
The reason locust swarms move so speedily is because every locust is trying to eat the one in front of them, whilst trying to avoid being eaten by the one behind. In an increasingly stressful world, isn't this a suitable analogy for modern life?
To those who chose to defend the recent illegal rave at the old Bookcraft site in Westfield Industrial Estate I would ask: did you see the state of the building afterwards? The scale of destruction was staggering - taps turned on, ceilings, carpets and furniture smashed to pieces, floors covered in human waste and urine. Yet the biggest shock is that such an attack could be carried out without any arrests.