A letter from Santa - Christmas 1940

By Brendan Murray

Scarcity and poverty are great levellers of class and creed. The dark clouds of war that burst over Europe in September 1939 were still gathering momentum during 1940. The Irish winter of that year was lean and hungry; everything was scarce; tea, sugar, and butter were rationed, everybody ate brown bread; white bread no longer existed; cigarettes and petrol had become extinct; an ounce of tea might be acquired on the black market at a price which only a favoured few could afford. The cost of living had increased rapidly and seriously eroded the incomes of most families; money was scarce; payment bore little relation to time spent on the job.

In spite of our Country;s neutrality, there was widespread apprehension that we might be forced into the hostilities; tensions increased enormously in the bordering counties Cavan and Monaghan when on the night of Friday, 20th December 1940, two German bombs fell on the creamery near Shantonagh; the explosions rattled the windows and doors of houses eight to ten miles away; conjecture was rife. Due o an imposed press censorship the general public didn’t know what was going on.

As Christmas approached, young Cavan lad, Brian Madden was five years old. On Christmas Eve, he went to bed early and hung a large stocking at the end of his bed for Santa’s presents. Santa had been very generous to him the previous year; he had brought him a big red pedal car. His immense joy at Santa’s generosity remained with him long after the car had fallen to pieces. To night he recalled his confusion the previous year when on looking into his stocking on Christmas morning he found only an apple and an orange, nothing else; he remembered, searching around his bedroom floor and peering under the small table in the corner of the room, just in case something had fallen out of his stocking; finally, he had looked under his bed, where to his amazement he discovered the big red peddle car; he then understood why Santa’s present was not in his stocking; it was too big to fit into it and Santa had put it under the bed because it was a very safe place for such a magnificent present. Tonight, pretending to be asleep, he watched for Santa through half closed eyes, his gaze fixed on the stocking at the end of his bed. Eventually, excited and tired from staying awake much longer than usual, he relaxed and fell soundly sleep.

When he awoke on Christmas morning he immediately dived towards the stocking. He couldn’t see anything protruding from the top of it so he jumped unto the floor to make a better inspection. He was shocked; there appeared to be nothing there, not even the usual apple and orange bulging at the bottom; he pulled down the stocking and stuck his hand inside; near the bottom he found a little booklet rolled up in a rubber band; he took off the rubber band and quickly unrolled the little booklet and gave it a cursory examination. It comprised four flimsy pages of cartoon type pictures of trees, all drawn green. He had seen a similar one in Brady’s shop window with the price “four pence” marked on it. Then, recalling the previous year, he suddenly realised that Santa’s real present was probably somewhere in the room; he immediately got down on all fours and peered under the bed, not a sign of anything; he crawled under the bed to make a better inspection; “‘snot here, must be under the table this time” he murmured to himself as he rapidly began reversing. Just then he heard his room door open and footsteps approaching the end of his bed; he stopped and saw the shoes and socks of his big sister Ann. “I’m looking for Santa’s present” he called out to her as he extricated himself from under the bed; “ can’t find it, he added. “Look, look” she interrupted, “Here’s a letter to you from Santa. It was in your stocking. “A letter from Santa, for me” he gleefully responded, “I didn’t see it when I looked in me stocking, there was only that old book like the one in Brady’s window” he added pointing to the discarded booklet on the floor. “Will I read Santa’s letter for you” she replied. “Do so, I can’t read very good”, he replied. “See” she said, showing the letter to him “To Brian - From Santa, is written in big letters on the envelope. He looked closely at it, slowly studying each letter. “Yes, to Brian, from Santa is written on it,” he said with delight, quickly repeating, “To Brian from Santa” and with great enthusiasm and expectancy he said, “Open it quick.”

Ann tore open the envelope and took out the letter and they both sat on the side of the bed as she unfolded the small sheet of white paper. He stared fixedly at the neat blue writing as holding the letter between them and with her left arm around his shoulder she read, - -

“Dear Brian,
I am very sorry that I was not able to bring you the ball with all stripy colours and the box of red, blue and yellow paints because all my reindeers except one got sick and he was only able to pull a small sleigh load of toys all the way from the North Pole so I could only bring some small presents for good boys and girls. When my reindeers are better I will bring you the ball and the box of paints.
I hope you like the small book, which I left in your stocking.

Be a good boy and always do what your mother tells you!Santa Clause.”
“Is that all what it says; that’s all he brought, - that wee book? queried an astonished Brian.
“That’s right, his reindeers got sick so he could only bring you a small present; he’s bringing you the other presents when his reindeers get better”.

“What did he bring you?” asked Brian, still in shock and gazing at the letter.
“Oh! Something small; got a letter too.”

“Where is it? Read it for me”.

“Oh! I threw it away.”

“Santa’s envelope is the same as the ones Mammy has” said Brian, still in shock and slowly examining the letter and the envelope.
“That’s right, sure he wrote it here last night and probably borrowed one of hers because all his were used up.”
“Santa’s writing is the same as Mammy’s”.

“Maybe a little, but all big peoples’ writing looks the same. Look I got to get ready for mass; so have you; you better get dressed and have your breakfast.” Ann hurriedly left the room and Brian, still numb with disappointment, put on some clothes and with a brave face proceeded to the kitchen for breakfast, leaving Santa’s letter and present discarded on his bed.”

Some days later, he was seated sulking on the wall outside his home, Santa’s small booklet protruding from his coat pocket. A child’s voice near him said, “Did Santa bring you that book?” He turned and saw little Mary Hannon seating herself on the wall beside him. She was about a year younger than him. Her mother helped his mother with house cleaning once a week and Mary often came with her. Mary grabbed the book from Brian’s pocket and commenced examining it. “Oh!” She exclaimed with delight, “It’s the very same as the one he brought me; it’s great!

“Is it?” remarked Brian, surprise in his voice. “You didn’t colour any of the hidden pictures” she replied turning over the pages.

“I only saw two and anyway I’ve no paints,” replied Brian.

“Look, there’s the first picture, see there’s four birds hiding in that tree”, she said carefully tracing the outlines of the birds with a small finger, and adding, “one, two, three, four; four birds in that tree’, Brian looked closely and saw the outline of the birds barely discernable among the elaborate branches; Mary continued, “See behind those mushrooms on the ground, look there! There’s two leprechauns, I coloured their clothes red and their faces blue.”

“I’ve no paints,” said Brian, dejectedly; he added, “Did Santa bring you paints?”
“No, he didn’t, I’ve no paints too, I coloured mine with my big brother’s red ink and blue ink and my own pencil; you can use your sister’s red and blue ink, she’s got some, cause she’s in the same class as my big brother.”

“Yeah! That’s right”, Brian replied, “She must have red ink and sure Mammy has blue ink anyway; I’ll have great fun doing that”.

“It’s a great book; isn’t Santa really great?”

“Yeah! He’s great;” replied Brian; but alas, like the shattering of the stillness of the night on 20th December, the the exploding bombs at Shanonagh, Brian’s faith in the omnipotent power of his good friend Santa and his reindeers was shattered forever.

Taken from Breffni Blue 2005