Dr Peter Moore: I decided to always leave the job of Santa to the real one

Santa Claus doctor using a stethoscope on himself trying to set laughing children

One of my biggest failures was being Santa aka Father Christmas - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I must admit there are some things I’m not very good at. I was always hopeless at football or anything that required coordination. But one of my biggest failures was being Santa aka Father Christmas.

In 1977, when I was a junior doctor on the children’s ward at Freedom Fields Hospital in Plymouth,  the senior consultant asked whether I could be Santa on Christmas Day.

The hospital authorities were not very imaginative. The ward was simply called 'Ward 5'.

The plan was that I would be pushed into the ward on my sleigh by two consultants and give out presents.

All the presents were colour coded for boys and girls and for the right age so that Santa could make sure that they all got the appropriate present.

It was only when I was on my sleigh surrounded by excited children that I realised the problem.

It was probably the reason why the most junior doctor on the team was given the role. More senior men would have refused and in the 1970s there was no suggestion of a Ms Christmas.

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Over Christmas there were no routine cases and any child who could be sent home had been sent home.  

The babies in the incubators of the special care baby unit would not recognise Santa. Many older children in hospital at Christmas were so seriously ill that they would not have realised that it was Christmas.

The ones who were still in hospital and aware of Christmas were often 'social problems'. 

As I sat on my sleigh surrounded by noisy children the word that sprung to mind was 'feral'. 

The idea that I could smile, say ho, ho, ho gently handing out toys turned out to be a little naive.

I did resist the temptation to swear and lash out. But it would be wrong to blame the children. Most of these kids had suffered an appalling childhood.

I had been on call the night before and had learnt that Christmas is not all merry and bright.

A father came in very drunk, slapped 50p on his son’s locker and staggered out.

I did not say Happy Christmas, but the staff were not surprised. It could also explain why some of the children were feral.

My only other attempt at being Santa was in my own surgery. Every week we ran a baby clinic where we saw children up to school age.

The main role of the clinic was to screen children but the clinic also played a useful role by bringing mums together and helping children to see the surgery as fun, not just where you go for injections or when you have earache.

Again, I rolled in with a jolly ho ho ho and immediately one of the mums looked up and said in a loud voice “oh look, It’s Dr Moore isn’t it”.

Before Devon Doctors' Out of Hours service we ran a rota with several other local practices.

Every year someone had to work out a rota leaving bank holidays blank. We then had a meeting over a meal which was often a bun fight deciding who would cover all the bank holidays including Christmas. 

Being on call on Christmas Day was always unpopular but someone in the rota had to take the short straw. I did cover my fair share although I preferred Christmas Eve.  

With young children we were often up on Christmas Eve wrapping presents.

On Christmas Day I was often surprised at how many calls were routine, but I knew I could celebrate our family Christmas on Boxing Day.

Driving around overnight on Christmas Eve I was never lucky enough to see a sleigh and reindeer in the sky but I am sure they were there somewhere.

As I looked up I promised myself that in future I would never try to pretend to be Santa. I decided that I would always leave the job of Santa to the real one.