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The best Santas in the city

EVERYONE needs a little magic in their lives -- and this year we probably need it more than ever. Finding that magic is not always easy though, even at Christmas. It seems only yesterday I brought all four of our children to do a survey of Dublin's best Santa experiences and watched as they waited starry-eyed before each pressed their little palms into a big white-gloved hand and shyly murmured their hopes for "a surprise".

These days I'm more likely to get a list of demands for electronic devices and games with names that sound like slasher movies. I want to feel the magic as much as I want my children to, but as I survey my row of children in order of descending height, it's clear there's only one place left to go this year if I'm to feel that warm little thrum of genuine Christmas cheer amid the glowering skies of budget week . . . my last believer.

"Oh, cool!" chirrups Jessica (10) before laying out various combinations of clothes in which to hold court with the man in red. "Are you going to be warm enough in that?" I ask when she presents herself in what looks like a little Bratz doll mini and a tiny white denim jacket, and feeling a stab of dismay when I realise that this is a question I'll likely be asking her for the next eight years. "Sure," she shrugs. "I have a hat!"

We decide to drive because it's cold and we call by her little friend Molly (eight) on the way because two little believers are always more fun than one and they chat excitedly all the way to town.

It's mid-afternoon, yet we park relatively easily in Clerys' car park off Gardiner Street. Christmas shopping lights twinkle above the gloomy streets of grumpy-looking crowds and it all feels more Bad Santa to me than Miracle on 34th Street.

I take both their little hands and we trot through the cold to our first Santa soirée and I'm hoping they won't be disappointed. In the back of my mind I'm hoping I won't be disappointed. By the time we've seen our five Santas though, none of us are.