The first I ever heard about Father Christmas was when a girl at primary school told me about him. My response was: “What? A strange man is going to come down our chimney, creep into my room and give me a 'present'. Well you can tell him the tooth fairy under my pillow will kick him in the balls. Here Santa, take that from Tinkerbell.”
I slept with a water pistol under my pillow for ages after that.
We never celebrated Christmas when we were kids. Not that my parents were trying to make a statement, they just didn't know what it really was or how it was done. When I tried to explain they said 'a tree? You want to bring a tree into the house? What's wrong with the garden?'
At that time, in the early eighties, there were hardly any foreign kids at my school and I soon learned that, “Miss, we don't have Christmas at our house and we never get any presents” was a line that should be milked for all it was worth. It inspired great pity from all and got me loads of extra treats and attention. Of course, my poor mother had to field many dirty looks at the school gate, but I had all the chocolates and sweets I could eat.
In the school nativity play I was always a shepherd and never landed any of the more glamorous parts. One year I asked my teacher if I could be an angel. She said, gently, “You're not blonde are you poppet? Blonde girls are angels and little Arabs are shepherds.”
I didn't mind, except that the angels were always placed centre stage and the shepherds shuffled around at the sides.
It was in those early days, as I stood bitterly tending my cardboard sheep, that I decided that what ever else happened in my life, I would get a job where I could stand in the middle of a stage, by myself and no blonde floozy could ever steal my thunder.
Christmas was still great fun for us heathen kids who didn't celebrate it. My mother would take us on annual trips to Harrods so we could see the lights and visit Santa's grotto. I made sure to tell Santa in no uncertain terms that I didn't want anything for Christmas and that he could skip our house. I didn't want to have to turn the gun on him.
Now that I'm all grown up, I have a great affection for Christmas. I lap up all the mushy, slushy Christmas sentiments without the hassle and expense of buying presents for people I never see from one year to the next.
I spend Christmas Day with a bunch of Iranian friends who all, like me, had parents whose idea of Christmas dinner was 'khoresheh booghalamoo'.
While my English friends trudge off to spend Christmas in their hometowns, locked in a room for two days with relatives they don't relate to, me and my pals have the most traditional of Christmases. We cook a feast of turkey, goose and salmon with all the trimmings. We get drunk on mulled wine and sing, or rather hiccup, Christmas carols. We do the whole cracker thing and the present thing (everyone buys one and gets one, simple) and the day is made much sweeter by the fact that we can all stand one another and no one is there by dint of blood-tie alone.
Things have changed from when I was child. A friend of mine has a little daughter, a little Iranian girl with caramel skin and jet-black hair. She told me she needed help making a costume for her nativity play. I told her I was a dab hand at making cardboard sheep. She looked at me strangely then explained, “I don't need a sheep. I need a halo.”
Shappi Khorsandi is a standup comedian in the UK.