I know, I know, it's been a long time since I've blogged. To my regular readers, I'm really sorry about that!
Those who know me will know already that I find Christmas rather a drag. I don't mean Christmas Day itself...I like nothing better than to be reminded again of the Christmas story, and to sing lusty carols at the top of my (not inconsiderable) lungs! No...it's all the tedious build up, and the feelings of guilt as I fail to make the grade, yet again, with regard to Christmas card writing, present buying, home visiting and so on.
Simon - my Rector, friend and boss, on the other hand...has an entirely different approach. His Christmas tree is already up; there's a wreath on his front door; and he's positively rubbing his hands together with glee at the prospect of all the forthcoming carol services. We manage to represent between us those two fundamental personality types, around Christmas: those who want to decorate the outside of their house with every illumination known to man; and those who like to go around cutting the cables!
I once found myself in a well known hardware store, just before Christmas - trying to buy some screws for another soon-to-be failed DIY attempt. The trouble was, I couldn't concentrate because the staff had seen fit to plug in a 'singing Christmas tree'. However, it didn't so much 'sing' and electronically 'beep' out the first two lines of Jingle Bells...over and over and over again. It was no good, I had to do something...so I boldly walked over to the offending tree...and unplugged it! It was worth it, frankly, just to see the look of horror on the face of other shoppers. But then...along came a staff member, with one of those ridulous Santa hats on...who plugged the darn tree back in. War had been declared....and thence commenced a battle of wills. I waited until she had gone to stack some more shelves, then quickly unplugged the offending tree. She would come back to it, look around suspiciously, then plug it in again. This went on for some time, until I decided that whilst she was paid to work there, I wasn't going to be able to spend the rest of the day doing battle...so I left.
What is it, I wonder, that causes us some of us to approach this season with such different attitudes? Well, I can't speak for Simon. Perhaps he's managed to maintain more of his inner child than me. (And yet I love childishness in many forms...ask the children who watch my school assemblies!). For me it is, I suppose, ultimately a kind of repressed puritanical outrage at all the commercialism, the selfishness, the waste - as well as the reality that less and less people actually know why they are celebrating it.
Alongside that is a deep deep suspicion about the Santa Claus thing. Most years we hear a story of some Vicar or other who has crossed the line and 'ruined' Christmas by speaking the truth about Santa Claus at some school assembly. I have to say that I take my hat off to them...though I doubt I will ever have sufficient courage to incur the wrath of the parents at our local schools. There are more important battles to be won. But I have great sympathy with these rebels...let me tell you why.
Some years ago, Clare and I decided that we were uncomfortable about the Santa Claus story - and so we decided to come clean with our daughter. We let her in gently by saying to her - very lovingly you understand - that there was someone we had been telling her about who isn't actually real. We asked her to tell us who she thought that might be. She replied "Is it Jesus?"
And there is the nub of the matter. When our children are very small, we tell them stories about Jesus and Santa as if there were no distinction. Then, as they grow up, and realise that Santa doesn't actually come down the chimney, they naturally wonder whether Jesus is real too. We do, actually, end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater! It is just possible that the development of the Santa Claus myth, over the last 100 years, has done more damage to faith than any other single factor.
So...I say...its time for Christians to reclaim Christmas. Stories of Santa should be confined to the real myth of St Nicholas of Smyrna, who put coins in the stockings of poor women and prostitutes at night, when they hung them out to dry. He should be seen as an example of generosity towards the poor...living out the calling of the Gospel to be a friend to neighbours in need.
Perhaps if that story was told more often I wouldn't be such a misery at Christmas time!