It does not cease to amaze me how big my kids are getting. My eldest recently turned six. This had to be celebrated in style with a football (yes football, I refuse to say soccer) party, where thirteen six-year-old boys (no girls allowed) turned our green lawn into a mudslide. A few days later, Tijm lost his first tooth.
It had been wobbly for a few days, and during more football on our mud field with a friend, he came running and screaming. I thought the worst, but these were cheers of joy. Proudly, I was shown the enamel evidence that had come out while Tijm was heading a ball in the goal.
Later that day we discussed the tooth fairy, and that Tijm should leave his tooth under the pillow, so he could receive a shiny coin for his piggy bank. Tijm looked up at me, incredibly. He shook his head. ‘No, mama, I don’t believe in the tooth fairy. That is just weird.’
A few weeks earlier we had had a similar conversation, where the subject of Santa Claus was raised.
‘Mama,’ he had said. ‘Father Christmas does not exist, does he? Not in Singapore.’
I was dumbfounded, freaking out in silence. What do you reply a five year old?
‘Off course he does,’ I started. ‘Don’t you remember seeing him last year, at the shopping centre? You even shook his hand?’
Tijm pondered, unconvinced. He shook his head. ‘I don’t believe it.’
We talked some more, but I could not convince my headstrong boy.
‘But what about Sinterklaas?’ I finally asked, heart pounding. I had not expected this to happen for a few more years.
Tijm looked back defiantly. ‘Sinterklaas?’ he said, as if that was a completely different matter. ‘No, Sinterklaas is real. Off course he is.’
With a mama-can-be-sooo-stupid look on his face he walked away, ending the conversation, leaving me relieved and confused at the same time.
Dealing with magical creatures like Santa Claus, his Dutch cousin and precursor Sinterklaas, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny (or Easter Hare, in my country) is difficult enough for any parent of a precocious child, but doing so in a multicultural community like Singapore means walking an even tighter rope. Why does Sinterklaas only deliver his present to Dutch kids, where Santa Claus seems less selective and hands them out freely, yet not to everyone? Does he visit the Chinese kids? What about the Malays? The expats, the French, Italians, German, American, Australian and British, everyone cherishes their own traditions, yet does not hesitate to borrow freely from others what seems nice as well. The resulting melting pot is great fun, but can confuse even the most keen-to-believe kid.
On the other side there is the home country, which gets closer and closer each year on TV and internet. How can we see Sinterklaas arrive in the Netherlands, having travelled for months to get there from Spain on his steamship, and then see him arrive in Singapore only a week later? How can he visit schools and parties on all continents, does he go back and forth by warp zones?
Finally, there is the most pressing question for Tijm: is all the fun over now Sinterklaas has been so generous on December 5th, or will Santa Claus bring more presents on the 25th?
Time will tell, and for now, for me, there is only one answer: to believe. To keep believing in the magic of childhood, which exist everywhere.
Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas, wherever you are, whatever you believe, and however you choose to celebrate!