In Private Eye there is a running gag in which news media retract a statement about a celebrity and change it to the opposite: David Cameron is not a rich idiot but the saviour of the nation; David Beckham is not a great sports star but an over-paid underwear salesman – &c. You get the idea. In doing so they expose the volte-face of a shallow reporting. Here comes one of my own.
I have long been seen as a Scrooge-like figure in my own family, and this…erm.. ambiguity around late December festivities has extended to Father Christmas. I have often cast doubt on the usefulness of Fr C in proposing an authentic Christmas narrative. I am sure that, however I dress this up, part of it is the upset of ten-year-old me discovering, probably a couple of years after his peers, what the adult world made of Father Christmas.
But the difficulties of current Santa culture seem particularly sharp this year, and not because of typhoons, or food banks, or the Middle East, or anything grand. It’s just that two examples from this Christmas seem especially naff: the illogical stance of this campaign in which a child writes to Santa saying she is “too old for fairy tales” (or is this simply ironic?); the bizarre “Catholics Come Home” video which has Santa at the stable. Even if I wielded an autocratic power to ban such things, I have no objection to people who do not believe in the Incarnation having a December festival, even if its name is nicked (let’s face it, Christianity probably stole the feast off the Romans), and I am not seeking to ban Santa from the celebration of Christmas. There is, however, a blind spot here. It is as if we can have a Christmas without Christ, but that the festival must have “Santa.” Not St Nicholas, of course, not the fiery , Orthodox bishop who stands as a symbol for children, for travellers, against exploitation; we must have Clement Moore’s jolliness, a penchant for overeating and comedy, and gift-giving. We must have that by-now-ingrained picture of a red suit and a white beard. He must receive the petitions of children not to have to go to Church; he must be corralled into Church-going himself. It is as if the myth has to trump both the religious belief and the negation of that belief. Santa, the jolly Winter King, rules. To my mind the glutinous “Santa at the Stable” advert is just as empty-headed as the “Dear Santa” letter.
Calm. Calm. Calm. Here comes the retraction.
With my white beard, and a (provided) red suit, I will be in a local Nursery in a fortnight’s time, ho-ho-ho-ing about and eating pies – both the mince and humble varieties. The prancing and pawing on the roof will be my feebly held values, anxious to fly away like the down of a thistle.
Where does that put me as cynic and hard-line Santa-doubter? I’m really not sure. But I will throw myself into Santadom with abandon and I fully expect to love it.