Sharpie stood awkwardly behind his wife. He had his hands behind his back and he jiggled from foot to foot uncertainly. He looked distinctly like he was up to mischief. He wasn’t of course, but he looked that way.
“’Appy Christmas,” he said, his Cockney twang bouncing around the room and making her jump.
“Bloody ‘ell Sharpie,” she cried, a hand on her chest and a look of fear etched across her face. “You made me jump to Overworld and back! What are you doing anyway? ‘Appy whatmas?” She was quite a bit more irritated than Sharpie had hoped. “And what’s that you’re hiding behind your back?”
Sharpie suddenly looked sheepish. “Sorry love, it’s Christmas though innit, it’s a surprise like.”
“Again with that word – whatmas?” Bewilderment reached her eyes and did battle with irritation. They didn’t celebrate Christmas in Underworld, clearly.
“Christmas!” He huffed in frustration. He knew that moving to a whole new world would be difficult, but surely the Underlings had heard of Christmas? Apparently not.
“What’s that then, another one of your crazy Overworld ideas, is it?” Irritation began to lose the battle of Butch’s eyes.
“Never ‘eard of Christmas, ‘ave you Butch? It’s the one time of year that’s full of magic and ‘appiness. It’s special.”
“Right…” she said, looking just a tad uncertain.
“You know, it’s a time of year when everyone gets themselves into crippling debt in order to buy each other presents and have a big fancy dinner. They eat so much that they can’t move after, they just lie on the sofa groaning in agony. And they ‘ope it snows so much that they can’t leave their houses. Christmas. It’s great fun. We should do it here.” He nodded enthusiastically.
“Okay,” she said. Bewilderment took up permanent residence in Butch’s eyes and her head fell to one side as she tried to work out whether Sharpie had, in fact, gone completely insane. He hadn’t.
“Loads of trees are cut down and everyone buys one to put in their house and decorate with shiny things. But it drives everyone mad because the pines fall off and stick in your butt when you sit down, and the dog cuts his mouth eating the baubles, and they put little twinkly lights on that are a fire ‘azard.” Sharpie’s face screams excitement and joy. Butch’s screams confusion.
Sharpie shrugged. “Looks pretty, dunnit? And those presents everyone has bought? We wraps ‘em up in silly paper and sticks ‘em under the tree. Then when Christmas comes, we rips all the paper up and chucks it in the bin.” His grin reached the top of his head. “I got you a present, ya know, since it’s almost Christmas. But it’s just wrapped in bog roll because you don’t ‘ave no wrapping paper down ‘ere, and we ‘ain’t got no tree to put it under so I put it in your shoe.”
“A present for me?” Butch’s eyes lit up. She didn’t care how confusing it was if she got a present.
“Well yeah, but you can’t open it until Friday, because that’s when Christmas is.”
“Oh,” she replied, the light in her eyes dying and the confusion returning. “Why’s that then?”
“I dunno, that’s just when Christmas is. Same date every year.”
“No, I mean, why do you do it?”
“’Cos of the baby Jesus. He was born, like, 2000-odd years ago and Christmas is to celebrate that.”
“Who’s baby Jesus?”
“God’s son? God?” Butch’s bewilderment turned to incredulity. Religion wasn’t high on her list of ‘things that I believe’. In fact, it wasn’t on the list at all. “You don’t believe in God though do you?”
“Well, no, but…” Sharpie began, clearly hurt by implication.
“So why do it then?”
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in a stable full of animals ‘cos there weren’t no room at the inn. And these three wise men, right, they got up one morning and started following this star in the sky. It took them all the way to Bethlehem, right? And they found the baby Jesus and they gave ‘im some presents. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Weird right? I mean, what baby wants those lot? I don’t even know what ‘alf of ‘em are. There ‘ain’t nothing wrong with a teddy bear or a little train or a rattle if you ask me, but I suppose it was the olden days and they did things all weird back then.”
“Huh. And everyone in Overworld actually believes this happened, then do they?”
“Well, no, not everyone.”
“No.” Sharpie’s eyes drooped and his looked at the floor. He felt like a school boy being told off.
“So, back to my original question then. Why do it all? The eating until you’re uncomfortable and spending until you’re in debt? I mean, it makes no sense. It’s punishment for nothing, ‘ain’t it?”
Sharpie’s head shot up and he smiled again. “No!” He cried. “No, that’s where you’re wrong! It ‘ain’t no punishment – it’s magical! We tell the kids that Santa is coming to bring presents.”
“Who is Santa? Jesus’ dad?”
“What? No, don’t be daft! Santa is a completely different part of Christmas. He is a big fat man with a big beard who comes down the chimney and leaves presents for the kids.”
“You still have chimneys in Overworld?”
“Well, some ‘ouses do, yeah. And my dad always said he came in the back door if there weren’t no chimney.”
“So you let a stranger in your house to leave presents for your kids?”
“Because Jesus was born in a stable?”
“Yeah, that’s about right. We leave Santa a mince pie, too. And a carrot for his reindeer.”
“REINDEER?” Butch shouted.
“Yeah. He drives around on magic, flying reindeer. How do you think he gets around the whole world in one night?”
“Well…I…umm. So let me get this right now. Over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in some stables. Three guys followed a star and gave him some presents. And because some people believe he was the son of God, you all get yourselves into debt to buy each other presents to celebrate his birthday?”
“Yes,” Sharpie nods emphatically.
“And then some fat dude flies around the whole of the world in one night using magic reindeer, lands on your roof (which is hopefully covered in snow and hence a death-trap), falls down your chimney, leaves presents for the kids that he’s never met, eats a mince pie, and leaves. Then you open presents from under a dead tree which everyone hates and gets pines in your butt and might just cause a fire. You rip off paper that you spent ages making look nice to find another pair of socks. Then you eat until you feel sick. Have I missed anything?”
“Umm…well, then the kids start crying because their really tired, we all sit on different sized chairs, we bicker over who can have the last roast spud, Grandpa falls asleep and snores so loudly that we want to smother him, and when we finally start to feel better after dinner, we start drinking until we feel sick again. Oh – and then we’ve got to eat turkey sandwiches for a week after, because we need to use up the leftovers.” Sharpie’s eyes were sparkling with joy. Butch’s mouth hung open in shock.
“And, like, you do this for fun, yeah?”
“Absolutely!” Sharpie replied. “Best day of the bloody year!”
Find out more about Butch and Sharpie in John Sharpe: No. 1,348!