I believe in Father Christmas….

 

I believe in Father Christmas

 

This might sound a peculiar statement from one of my years (I am over forty) but do bear with me on this.

My childhood Christmas memories are pretty well all happy ones, and my parents maintained the Father Christmas idea by not putting any decorations or a tree up until my brother and I were sound asleep on Christmas eve. This meant that descending on Christmas morning was probably the most intensely exciting thing a child can experience because we knew that when he came Father Christmas brought the tree and the decorations as well as presents. One year when I was very small(so small I have no conscious memory of it) my father put real candles on the tree and lit them moments before we came into the room. I’d like to think this might account for my love of candles; my mother is scared of naked flames and candles only ever come out during a power-cut. My home has candles lit every day, and for special occasions I have extra and special ones.

Belief in Father Christmas persisted for me in the face of my brother telling me it was a story because of an experience one Christmas eve that I still find lovely. I heard sleigh-bells on the roof. Of course, I discovered later that it had been a dinosaur toy with bells on it my dad was trying to wrap near the fireplace in the dining room. I grew up in a fairly large Victorian house with a system of interconnecting chimneys and the sound of the bells downstairs sounded exactly like it came from the roof.

Of course, I can see you all now, shaking your heads with amusement and asking surely she doesn’t still believe in Santa? A magical man who travels round the world on Christmas eve delivering presents from a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer to all the children who have been good?

Well, the answer is somewhere between no and yes.

 

I’d like you to read the following extract from Terry Pratchett’s novel Hogfather. It’s set in another world but they have a midwinter festival same as we do, but it is called Hogswatch and they have the Hogfather instead of Father Christmas. The capitalised words are spoken by the character Death, who is….well, Death personified. He is talking with his granddaughter Susan.

 

 

‘Thank you. Now… tell me . .

WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?

‘Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?’

NO.

‘Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.’

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

She turned on him.

‘It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath! I don’t need silliness!’

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

‘Really? Then what would have happened, pray?’

A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.

They walked in silence for a moment.

‘Ah,’ said Susan dully. ‘Trickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.’

I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.’

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little-‘

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

‘So we can believe the big ones?’

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

‘They’re not the same at all!’

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET– Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—‘

MY POINT EXACTLY.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.

‘Yes, but people don’t think about that,’ said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed…

CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A… A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.

‘Talent?’

OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE

UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.

‘You make us sound mad,’ said Susan. A nice warm bed…

NO. YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? said Death, helping her up on to Binky.”

 

(I would recommend that you read the book at some point if you can.)

 

No, I do not believe in a literal Father Christmas in his red suit and big boots and so on. I do however believe very firmly in an archetypal one. Archetypes, broadly speaking, are the personification of certain ideas and ideals that are somehow endemic to the human psyche. (For a very succinct overview of archetypes please visit http://jeanraffa.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/hows-your-religion-working-for-you/) Some believe that these archetypes have an objective reality somewhere beyond this consciousness we call our world. Shamans and psychoanalysts journey into the worlds of the archetypes to explore and discover things about our collective humanity, and our own unique manifestations of archetypal energies.

All those things we heard about as children have a basis in this. The bogeyman, the monster under the bed are our first understandings of the shadow, both our own and that of humanity. The tooth fairy is a kind of psycho-pomp conducting us on the first steps from childhood towards growing up by accepting and compensating us for the loss of our milk teeth (innocence?). The faery stories we have read to us as small children are ways of teaching us about how the world is, the good, the bad and the ugly, and how we may survive it and even thrive. But children grow up and eventually become, at least in terms of calender age, adults. And adults need to see the world in rather different ways. One way of doing this is by trying to understand the origin of our beliefs and attitudes. That I believe still in the ideals and virtues of the childish Father Christmas may mean that I have successfully integrated the core of the myth into my psyche.

 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13 verse 11

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “I believe in Father Christmas….

  1. When my kids were a bit younger, I would do the same: put the kids to bed on Christmas Eve and when they fell asleep, decorate the tree and place the presents beneath it. I stopped doing this only about four years ago. My oldest is 14. The best thing about this is when the kids get up, the focus isn’t all on the gifts. It’s on the tree, the decorations, the lights and the magic of them all filling the livingroom when only hours beforehand there was just the room.

    My mother did this for the first half dozen of her kids. By the time I rolled around, she had tired of it. The tree went up a week before Dec. 25th.

    Many others having their tree up a week (or two or five) before Christmas Day stopped the tradition in our home. The kids kept bugging me to put the tree up because all their friends had their tree up. So I’ve comprimised. The bare tree goes up on Winter Solstice and it gets decorated on Dec 24th.

    As for the belief in Father Christmas, I like to believe long ago there was a person who was very generous and made and gave toys or trinkets to children. His legend lives on. I do believe there are things we can not see unless they wish to be seen. That’s where the fairies and goblins live.

    Great post. You almost make me want to read that book. I just might. I haven’t read something that sensible for a long time.

  2. Dear Viv,

    This is a marvelous amalgamation of literature and psychology. The Hogfather passage is brilliant; isn’t Terry Pratchett a cohort of Neil Gaiman? Love his books. May have to get this one!

    Thank you for the link. It’s an honor.

    Jeanie

  3. Great post, Viv, thoroughly enjoyed it. Peculiar thing is I sat last night & drafted a post with a similar theme. Mine isn’t anywhere near as lyrical and intelligent as yours, but it made me smile that you are over there in the UK & I’m here Downunder, and we are both writing about believing in the ‘ideals and virtues’ of Santa. Thanks for expanding & deepening my thoughts.

  4. Woo-hoo,Viv!!

    While I appreciate all the articulate references that may be cited ( for whatever reasons), I much more appreciate your personal sharing of, and blessing upon, your childhood experiences of Christmas in a “Victorian house”.

    1 Corinthians,13 has always been my favourite chapter in The Bible – the Love Chapter! I always interpreted the chapter as meaning that we will give up our tantrums, our sense of victimization, our vengeances – never to give up our present moment joy of the true “magic” of life. (the difference between being childish and child-like!)

    Happy Christmas, Dear Viv, and may the New Year bring you the fulfillment of your deepest Heart’s desires. Our hearts hold the imprint of our connection to the Divine, however we understand that glorious Idea, and you can, as we all can, trust that truth!

    Love to all,
    Sara

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