Sunday, 1 December 2002

Inside Story

“Do you believe in Father Christmas?”  I thought I had settled that one long ago – but now I’m not so sure!
Christmas has been a long time coming in our house.  Or, looking at it another way, I’m not sure Christmas ever really finished last time.  ‘The Snowman’ was weaving his magic amongst us every day for the first half of the year.  In the height of summer ‘Wow – that’s what I call Christmas’ took over – ever smiling presenters Carl and Katie (aided by Bump and Super Ted) reeling off a string of Christmas Favourites – first thing every morning.  The Christmas Tree has been out of sight but never really out of mind, and we eventually gave in to repeated requests and got it out a couple of weeks ago.  Strangely, that prompted a dramatic loss of festive interest (sudden arrival giving the lie to expectation, I suppose) but things are picking up again now.  Imogen is waiting for it to snow so that she too can go ‘walking in the air’ and she is always on the look out for Santa.
Not that she has to look too far.  She has her very own Santa outfit and, even when she’s not wearing it, the correct answer to ‘What’s Father Christmas doing?’ is to state exactly what Imogen is doing at that moment, “Eating his breakfast” or “Sitting on his potty”!
It’s not that a child of nearly 3 does not have some grasp on reality, but it’s fair to say that imagination and ‘reality’ have, as yet, no clearly defined boundary.  FC is a great character and part of a wonderful story and I suppose he offers a role that anyone can ‘inhabit’, if they wish.
I’ve even quite enjoyed accompanying Imogen and Jemima into Santa’s grotto – you could actually see the half-made toys on his workbench – but there was something I found disconcerting and eventually I worked out what it was.  It was the attempt to go beyond an understated enactment of the story.  The attempt to impress on the children that this particular ‘Santa’ was watching them, that their presents were in his keeping and if they were good he would visit the house and deliver them to the waiting stockings.  I don’t know if I can get my feeling across, but there was an attempt to literalise the story, which threatened to undercut its real nature as a story.  The only (eventual) outcome is for the beauty of the myth and such truth as it possesses to sink in the cold grey waters of hard and disappointing fact.
For me this raises questions about the other Christmas Story – what we often call the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas.  Is that one (just) for the children?  Within it, where does the boundary between imagination and ‘reality’ lie and in what sense is the relationship between the two an important one?  Are they correct who would strenuously assert it all as historical fact or is that just to deny many people the power of the story, which, as inspiring story, can perhaps change the facts of our lives?
Then again there’s the third Christmas Story – the story in the ads.  It says “Spend your money like this, buy into this image and your home will be full of all the happiness and harmony that you could wish for.”
I said that Santa is part of a wonderful story – it is rather a simplistic one though – be good and be rewarded, be naughty and you won’t.  The ‘real’ Christmas story has far more in it, enough to make us question and ponder for a lifetime.
Facts are important, sometimes they are vital.  But I don’t think the human spirit is sustained by fact.  What we need is poetry, imagination and good role models – no, that sounds too mundane – we need to have our imaginations fired up with a vision of the shape our lives could take, if we are to live fully in response to the grace of God.

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