The entente turned discordial Christmas Eve when the Frenchman and I had a furious row over who was giving what and when and the role of Father Christmas in this material exchange. Of course we had to fall out in front of the mothers who took the sides you would expect with the consequent rise in bilateral relations (already complicated because neither mother speaks the other's language). The Fille was asleep and my stepdaughter beat a diplomatic retreat to bed so at least it was even sided.
The Frenchman wanted to put the tinselled bike around the tree and make out Santa had brought it. I thought this was a bad idea. For starters the bicycle was not wrapped (no paper, however lurid, could have competed with its glittery paintwork). Secondly, I was sure if the Fille saw the bike she would be so dazzled she would lose interest in any other present. Thirdly, and perhaps selfishly, I felt there was a good chance she would spot the unwrapped bike while most of us were still asleep robbing us of the pleasure of seeing her face. Fourthly, I knew attributing the bike to Father Christmas would disappoint my mother who had bought it and was as excited as a child about giving it. In short: I thought it was not just a bad idea, but a very bad idea. "Let's keep it hidden until she has opened everything else," I suggested. I did not think I was being unreasonable, but maybe something went AWOL in the translation - we were all quite tired. In any case it went very hissy and "That's IT", very quickly. At one point the Frenchman returned from smoking his filterless Gitane on the doorstep - he is not allowed to light up inside - and I swear he was banging on about the importance of The Fille believing in Father Christmas and asking if I wanted her to be the only child in her future school class who did not believe in him. I just wanted Christmas to be magic and there I was having a very ugly, unmagical slanging match, and doing more than my share of the ugly, unmagical slanging. My mother-in-law went away and returned with her Christmas present for The Fille. She put it at the foot of the tree in the most prominent position. "I don't care if she thinks it's from Father Christmas," she said. "And I think you'll find she won't care either." My mother nodded. At least they were getting on.
This is the first year The Fille has been old enough for us to worry about Father Christmas: does he bring all the presents or just some? Are all the presents actually from him? Is he just delivering them on behalf of the giver? I found I could not answer these fundamental questions. Clearly I am going to have to do some research before next year.
As midnight passed and we were still lobbing verbal daggers, I thought: "This is ridiculous. We are having an argument over someone who doesn't exist." I am not sure exactly when but there was eventually a: 'Stop. Peace. Goodwill to all men and women' moment. By then it was already Christmas.