Friday, 23 December 2016


“Bah! Humbug! Don’t be daft…you can’t.” But I do… I completely believe in the idea of Santa Claus…of sleigh bells…of “Ho! Ho! Ho’s!” and of Rudolf. Like all great, timeless stories it has evolved and gathered a patina of stuff like the elves, North Pole, chimneys and that red Santa costume. I really believe in the spirit of Christmas that this projects.

And that’s why I abhor the idea of telling children at a certain age that it isn’t true, that the whole idea is a piece of childish garbage. A friend told me that when his mother told him aged 10 “the truth” he told her insouciantly “yeah I knew that.” But he didn’t and just went away sobbing because an idea had been broken and a trust destroyed.

Imagine the guffaws of laughter provoked by the Rubens painting of St. Francis at Christ’s crucifixion. …spoiler alert …Francis wasn’t born for another 1200 years so the whole thing is a lie. Ho. Ho. Ho.

In a year which heralded the arrival of post-truth my support for the idea not the literal truth being what matters may seem dangerously avant-garde.  But Christmas like love is not something we can just reduce to facts.

Fact or fiction? Whenever we read a totally engaging story we lose ourselves in the truth of that story. A Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers are both in the bubble in which we read them, totally credible. The skilful storyteller can induce what Samuel Taylor Coleridge 200 years ago called a “suspension of disbelief”.
In the car recently the Archers came on the radio and our grandsons listened…there was a long silence. When it finished I heard that carefully phrased question: “Grandpa are those real people and why do they talk like that?”  The Archers and those funny “old people” - step up Joe Grundy - have become a new truth which they and other soap opera stars are for many people. Just  as the Shire has its own reality in Lord of the Rings.

Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe the incredible can happen? You’d better after 2016. But miracles need a little help. Like great magic the more we’re predisposed to accept the implausible the more wonderful the trick becomes.

Sadly as we grow up and become more rational and hardened against play we lose a little of our humanity. We become cynical about the stories that can make the world so beautiful a place.

I believe in goodness, in human beings, in generosity of spirit and in Christmas not as a factual thing but as a completely brilliant idea and story. A story that is timeless and which bonds us together. And what better way to start a story could there be than this?

“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” 

1 comment:

James Arnold-Baker said...

Last week I got a desperate call from a neighbour. Every year he arranges a visit by Santa to our village - and his Santa had just gone down with flu - would I stand in? So, I arrived in his pick-up truck, and asked all the village kids if they had been good all year. Some kids sat on my knee, so that they could be recorded on their parents' iPhones.Then my two elvish assistants, one a black girl who has just retired from the army as a full colonel, the other an MBA, doled out the presents.
At a stroke, I was converted from the village Scrooge, to Santa himself. What's not to believe about that?