Portugal’s Santa appears to be somewhat more athletic than the chubby bloke I have known since childhood.
My Santa is the kind of guy who struggles to lever himself out of the sleigh after a heavy night of mince pies and beer. I imagine he loves a good party and on occasion has been known to fall asleep in the snow with a goofy grin on his face and a bottle of whiskey in his arms.
But the Santa featured in a popular Portuguese Christmas decoration is a very different character, a lean, mean mix of Rambo and ninja warrior who is shown climbing up a rope ladder with a stuffed sack over a shoulder and a crazy glint in his eye. It’s the kind of look that appears on people’s faces just before they throw themselves off a bridge with a bungee cord lashed to their ankles.
These plastic Santas seem to have bred in the last few years and are now all over the place, climbing the walls of suburban homes and clinging with grim determination to the balconies of apartment blocks. When the wind blows they thrash about in the air and get slammed against the building. When it is calm they hang there motionless like a bug squashed against the wall. Either way there is something disturbing about a Santa on a rope.
What makes it worse it that some don’t make it back into the Christmas decoration box when the whole festive thing is over. They hang there abandoned and forgotten as the seasons pass, their little red coats scraping back and forth across the wall until they are worn to tatters and the manic look has faded from their eyes.
When the wind blows hard enough there is often an additional macabre twist to the story – the rope gets wound around Santa’s neck and he hangs there as if he has decided to end it all after too many lonely nights with the elves. My son’s crèche had a Santa hanging from the balcony and after a particularly violent Silver Coast storm we arrived one morning to find him hanging upside down with the rope around his ankle. This was not a good thing for my son to see. ‘Daddy, look! Father Christmas died,’ he said.
Now I know for sure that I have never read a Christmas story in which Father Christmas climbs a rope ladder. In my stories he does the conventional sleigh and chimney thing. This seems to have worked fine for centuries but I’m happy to see a little innovation. So if today’s Santa is ditching the reindeer transport in favour of a rope ladder then that is fine by me. I’ll just leave the carrots off his plate this year.