Sacrifice to Santa

Every year it happens; some poor guy (or girl) tells children the truth that ‘There ain’t no Santa Claus’; and the sky falls on him/her.  A few years ago it was a primary school supply teacher who it seems unfortunately misjudged whether her class were already old enough to know the truth.  She got suspended and special lessons on ‘the meaning of Christmas’ were arranged to put things right by, well, ensuring that the children’s belief in Santa was restored.

This year it’s a priest.  Talking to children he both told them Father Christmas doesn’t exist and also told them the original legend of St Nicholas (‘Santa Claus’), a 4th Century Turkish bishop known for a probably true act of generosity and also for a few less likely miracles, one of which involves some slightly gory details.  Children were reduced to tears, claimed the front page headline press story about this ‘Grinch’.

Now it may well be that the priest misjudged whether the children were quite ready for the gorier bits of the St Nick legend; but given what can be seen on children’s TV currently, I’m a bit dubious on that.  It’s also getting harder and harder in these days of political correctness and such to judge that kind of issue clearly anyway….

But basically, presumably the crying was mainly over the denial of Santa.  And I think it’s time to reconsider this whole business.

First, the modern ‘Father Christmas’ not only doesn’t really exist, even as a myth he’s a surprisingly modern addition to our Christmas; famous Christmas enthusiast Charles Dickens doesn’t seem to have known of him.

St Nicholas did exist; but apart from the hijacking of his name in its Germanic form of ‘Santa Claus’, he really has nothing to do with the modern essentially pagan fat red-cloaked demigod who lives at the North Pole with an elvish toy factory.  St Nicholas was celebrated in Europe by a festival of giving on his proper ‘saint’s day’ of December 6th, a festival which perhaps surprisingly survived even among Protestants after the Reformation.  I’m not clear how he became entangled with Christmas, the earliest example I personally know of is the appallingly sentimental American poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas….”  I think I could go along with the continuation of a proper St Nicholas festival, on the proper date, which was really about giving to the needy rather than the modern consumerism; but that’s not going to happen now, is it?

Take away the St Nick connection (which is effectively abandoned in the modern Santa myth), and the modern Father Christmas has no real connection to the Christian Christmas celebration, or to Christianity at all.  Indeed, Father Christmas has become an alternative to the Christian Christmas story, and an untrue alternative at that.  And if you look around the shops as Christmas approaches you won’t these days see much of the Nativity, of Jesus and his family, the stable and stuff.  OK, stars and angels seem to have survived from the traditional story, but otherwise it’s all Santa and ‘his’ presents, reindeer, elves, snow, robins, Dickensian scenes assorted, Christmas trees, baubles and other jazzy decorations, cards mostly not showing anything Christian….

So why do Christians put up with this?  Why do we, the followers of the Way, the TRUTH and the Life, go along with the – let’s be blunt about it – LIE?  Why does a priest who tells the truth about Santa get reprimanded by panicky superiors?  Why do church members ‘do Santa’ and tell the Santa lie to their children??  What can be wrong in telling children the truth that they get presents from family and friends who love them, and through normal channels, not via the North Pole?

And what about the media who make such a fuss about the truth-teller?  Be honest, if a priest were to tell children a deliberate lie about anything else, the media would be demanding instant unfrocking; but when it’s Santa, it’s the other way round – join in with the lie or we crucify you!  Santa has become the only religion in Britain which is allowed to persecute unbelievers – and that despite the fact that none of the adult persecutors actually believe in Santa themselves!  But why should Christians be pressurised to tell lies – the media and the politically-correct brigade would be up in arms at attempts to make people of other faiths go along with lies related to their faith, or let their festivals be subjected to similarly blasphemous exploitation?  (‘Blasphemous’?  I invite you to consider some of the words of ‘Santa Claus is coming to town…!)

I don’t like making children cry either; but in this case, who really produces the tears – the person who finally tells the truth, or the people who have told such an elaborate and deliberate lie in the first place?  And while I’m in favour of religious toleration, the Father Christmas myth and the modern ‘Christmas’ that goes with him is no genuine religion – rather it is a commercialised parasite on Christianity, and surely we are well entitled to disclaim it and make clear that it’s no real part of the authentic Christmas, the Christmas which is about the incarnation of the Son of God.  I think it is some indication of the bias and unfairness of the ‘political correctness’ brigade that while they’re so keen to supposedly protect those of other faiths from Christianity, they won’t protect Christianity from this parasite.

We Christians often make a token fuss about the commercialisation of Christmas; but I believe that if we really want to make an impact on that commercialisation, we need to be clear to the world out there that ‘Father Christmas’ is nothing to do with our celebrations, and that  CHRISTIANS DON’T BELIEVE IN HIM!!  It’s not just the commercialisation, it’s also the ‘simple truth’ aspect – we compromise Christian truthfulness when we go along with such nonsense.  Having said that, it does look as if the attempt to have a secular Christmas is flagging a bit; indeed the vehemence with which people are attacked for telling the truth about Santa suggests a degree of desperation….


Marcus Brigstocke – whining about Christmas….

During her programme on comedy and Christianity, ‘Are you having a laugh?’  Ann Widdecombe interviewed comedian Marcus Brigstocke; a clip was shown from one of Brigstocke’s performances.  In it he said

I respect a person’s right to have a religion, but just how much do these people want from us?  Christmas starts in October and approximately two months is lights, songs, special meals, promotions, adverts, decorations, trees and nativity plays in thousands of our schools.  So my question is, how much more do you Christian campaigners think you might need from us before you stop your ******** whining?

OK Marcus, I know your tongue will have been a bit in your cheek and your conversation with Ann showed that you are a quite reasonable person when not in on stage mode.  I expect a comedian to exaggerate a bit – and yes, I found your rant funny (though the fun is wearing off a bit after repeated replays to make the above transcript!).  But hang on a minute… how much of those months of agony (and I don’t enjoy it much myself!) is actually to do with us Christians to begin with?

Most Christians in my experience only want to be doing Christmas as such for the month of ‘Advent’ leading up to December 25 itself, and Advent is more than just Christmas anyway.  For those who follow the ‘Christian calendar’ there’s plenty else to do for the rest of the year, including the much more important celebration of Easter.  Though less common, many others do not accept the dubious calculations which led the dubiously established Roman Imperial church to the December 25th date and we don’t feel a particular need to specifically celebrate Jesus’ birthday at all, though we’re usually polite enough to go along with those who do.  And actually in less overtly ‘Xmassy’ ways all Christians celebrate all year round the deep implication of Christmas as the incarnation of God in human form.

The massively extended (over-blown?) celebration that you protest about, Marcus, is really, as your mention of ‘adverts and promotions’ suggests, more to do with a commercialised festival which took off in the early Victorian era, perhaps particularly from the writings of one Charles Dickens, and has now almost taken over from the original religious feast.  It has increasingly taken on a life of its own and apart from using the name ‘Christmas’ (and even that often reduced to the anonymous ‘Xmas’) barely refers to the Christian beliefs at all.  Consequently far from campaigning for it, most Christians actually find this manifestation of ‘Christmas’ a problem.

For this modern materialistic winter festival the true god is ‘Father Christmas’; this figure is ultimately pagan, and is also prefigured by the ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’ in Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  There is confusion with the genuine Christian festival earlier in December of St Nicholas, a 4th Century Bishop famous for some spectacular gifts, but the modern ‘Santa’ has become a completely separate figure with a fairy story legend which makes him a kind of Scandinavian demigod as he allegedly lives at the North Pole with his elves.

Ironically Santa is one of the few religious beliefs on behalf of which you (even you, Marcus) may still be more-or-less officially persecuted in our fairly tolerant country.  If you are invited to visit a junior school and entertain the children, try telling a class of nine-year-olds that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, and see what happens.  If you get out alive… well, it may not be quite that bad, but it could still be an adversely career-changing move for a comedian who does a lot of work for children’s TV!  (Several teachers in recent years have suffered such persecution for misjudging whether their classes had already grown up enough to abandon belief in Father Christmas).  And see how the adults will rush in like the 7th Cavalry to repair the ‘damage’ you have supposedly done by telling the truth to the kids, with ‘special lessons on the meaning of Christmas’ to reinforce the Santa lie.  Most of those adults will have no serious Christian beliefs, and of course they won’t – unless insane – believe in Father Christmas at all!!

So Christians aren’t really responsible for much of the Christmas palaver you are whining about, especially the way it now starts in October (or even, I sometimes feel, in October of the previous year!).  I suppose the staging of nativity plays can’t be so easily disclaimed; though these days there is a considerable element of tradition and custom (“This is the ‘done thing’ at Christmas”) rather than serious faith on the part of teachers.  This is basically because of the many years when most of Europe was formally Christian.  Because this blog deals regularly with that issue I’ll not go into it again in detail right here, just say that according to the New Testament Christianity should not have had that special place in the state.  Mind you, much of the pattern of modern schooling derives from days when the churches provided education for people because the state in those days didn’t; you should at least give the church credit for that, and indeed for being the lead educator in many modern third world countries where un-or-other-believers can’t be bothered.

Christians I think have a right to campaign for their faith; as you, Marcus, have a right to oppose us and make fun of us.  If we are doing things biblically we won’t be seeking special privilege in the state, just humbly seeking to share things that have truly helped our lives.  And we are often dismayed by the modern ‘Christmas’ as much or even more than yourself.

See also a separate post on this blog about the Widdecombe programme….