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?’
‘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.
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