Sunday, 20 December 2015

I don't believe in Father Christmas

I I don't get it. 

In order not to offend Muslims and possibly atheists, the biblical story of Jesus' birth is being toned down, lampooned or omitted altogether in schools across the UK. This has been the case for years, but recent more rapid shifts in culture and special sensitivities have accelerated it. 

In its place we have the americanised commercialism of Santa, which has grown rapidly into the vacuum left by the "traditional" nativity. "Santa" has outpaced "Father Christmas" as the standard term, and there has been a shift in emphasis too. 

As a child, I "believed" in Father Christmas, in the sense that, like the Tooth Fairy, he was part of a ritualised Let's Pretend game I played with my parents. Like the tree, the crackers, the big box of presents to be opened after the Queen's Speech, and being allowed a little sip of ginger wine, Father Christmas was part of the magic - the happy traditions of the solstice party, linked in a rather ill-defined way to the actual account of Jesus' birth. In my early twenties I went through a phase of rejecting that link, and abandoning the whole thing, but by the time my children were around, the same gentle hybrid of seasonal game reasserted itself. 

I think that many families in the UK, whether explicitly Christian believers or not, played a similar game. And my German stepsons were doing the same - chocolate arrived in their shoes if they cleaned them on 5th December, and they knew all along that Sankt Niklaus was mum really, but loved the game and the sweets. 

There is a new hard line about Santa now, though. In a society which has abandoned old truths, it is the newest and most synthetic myths that have to be insisted on. They are synthetic and they are commercial to the core; it is all firmly about receiving, not giving. I find it hard to believe, but Christmas schoolwork in many classes now includes looking through the Argos catalogue to prepare a list of what the child wants from the fat man in red. 

Parents whose children "do not believe in Santa" and who dare to say so are liable to get a stern word from the teacher because of their insensitivity and for how they are "spoiling Christmas for the others". Actual belief in Santa amongst children is now the presupposition. We have apparently lost the ability to really enjoy the happy adult-child conspiracy of make-believe - in fact, the relaxed play/pretend option I was brought up with and practiced with my children may have become all but impossible. I guess at the same time, we have stopped teaching our children to thank real people for their presents. 

The parent whose child has caused "offence" may argue, "But he isn't real!" and the answer comes, "I know... but..."  Since when could publicly funded schools reprimand parents for failing to maintain and make their little children maintain what is known and acknowledged by the teachers to be untrue? To put it another way, children can be scolded for speaking something that the teacher knows to be the truth, as do the parents who complain to the school when this kind of "unbelief incident" occurs. 

A Christian parent I know has ended up in deep conversations with the parents of her daughter's best friend - Muslims, as it happens. "Oh - we thought Santa was part of Christianity!" Confusion reigns. (But then for Muslims, scantily clad young women puking up their vodka outside clubs is also part of Christianity.)

Both serious Christian and Muslim parents are offended by greed-driven Santa rubbish. Interestingly, the biblical birth narrative would be less offensive to Muslims than commercial fakery. 

As it is, the only winner is the culture where postmodern depreciation of truth has now twisted into the active promotion of known lies. We have moved on from "This is my truth, tell me yours" to "This is my lie, you must believe it." 

Oh, and there is another winner. Argos.

1 comment:

  1. A bit late for this year, but for next year: