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

 

 

 

Belief(or lack thereof)

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with belief. I’ve stopped believing in things most people believe in and I hang onto beliefs many folks have long given up on, for far longer than you’d imagine. I believed in Father Christmas long after everyone else had decided it was definitely your mum and dad; I still do, to tell you the truth. It’s based on some fairly complex metaphysics these days, but back at age five, it was based on the empirical evidence of my own ears. You see, I heard the sleigh bells on the roof, one Christmas. The fact(eagerly pointed out to me by my older brother) that we lived in a Victorian house with a system of interconnecting chimneys, and I surely heard the sound transmitted from downstairs fireplace to my bedroom fireplace, where my father sat wrapping a jingly toy by the fire, and not from the roof as I thought, simply didn’t dent my belief that father Christmas was a real entity. I still believe it, now aged almost 43.

I don’t for example believe in Red Nose Day or Children in Need, Sport Aid or any of the other media fuelled charity blow outs this country seems to delight in. My bus driver today wore a red curly wig and a red nose; I suspect he wasn’t happy about it but you can’t go against the mass without jeopardising your place by the fire. I fully accept they raise a massive amount of much needed money for great causes. But I don’t believe they are the best way. They actually create charity fatigue; people get fed up with it and it’s a fair bet many give out of guilt and a fear of looking mean. I also have a cynical concern that a vast amount of the money raised vanishes in costs and administration.

I also don’t believe in the essential goodness of people, despite plenty of evidence experienced personally. This is based largely on statistics; in short, the sums just don’t add up.  If people were basically good, then the world would not be in the mess it seems to be in right now.

My current belief in God wavers; I suspect God not only exists and I’d also be willing to bet that He/She is basically benign. But also mainly unknowable. If you haven’t ever read “Mister God, this is Anna,” I’d highly recommend it; I think it ought to be required reading at every Bible college, vicar factory, theological college and seminary in the world. In one section, Anna, the eponymous heroine(an eight year old orphan) is watching some ants and tried to explain to Fyn, the author, that however much she loves the ants, there is no way for her to ever convey that love to the ants. Too much of a gulf exists for her to be able to make the ants know of her love. For me, in many ways, this is how I feel, a slightly enlightened ant, knowing that God is unknowable to me in my ant state but having a dim idea that he/she exists and probably loves me.

But, being me, the biggest thing I don’t and cannot believe in, is simply myself.

I have tried. Endlessly. And without success. Others do; others tell me I should believe in myself. I am told I have plenty to believe in, but when I try, nada.

I understand that faith is a gift, a grace if you like. I had a friend who was dying, some years ago. I spent a lot of time with him, massaging his feet and listening and talking. He wanted to believe in God, he really did. He envied his wife and her faith, but even though he wanted to, he simply never reached a point fo faith. I went to see him up until five days before his death, when cellular breakdown meant I could no longer touch his feet without causing serum to leak through his skin; he was the first person who I saw after death. I stood in the room while my husband said the prayers for the dead, holding hands with the family and friends and I could feel him in the room, a peaceful presence. His shell looked very peaceful and it no longer looked even remotely like him. I had the very strong feeling he knew now what he had been unable to believe in life, and it was good. His spirit appeared a few days later to a family member who had been unable to get to visit in the last days; he told her he was surrounded by light, and that it was just wonderful and then he vanished.

I’d like to be given a gift of faith, not just in God, because I have that to some extent, but in myself.