In today’s Advent post, David Russell Mosley reflects on the figure of Father Christmas. Drawing on Tolkien’s argument in On Fairy Stories, that fairy tales and mythical figures point beyond themselves to the truth of the Gospel, Mosley describes how he sees the Good News in Father Christmas. David will share more about Faerie and the Gospel in future Scholar’s Compass posts.
Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia (p. 107). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
This time of year, namely Advent, gets us, or at least me, excited for a particular individual: namely Father Christmas. I have a bit of an obsession with Father Christmas. In truth, I have an obsession with Faërie, something those who know me will not be surprised by. Father Christmas is, to my mind, the near perfect embodiment of the wedding of Faërie and the Faith. I do prefer Father Christmas to Santa Claus. Santa Claus, as a name, is really quite confusing for those unfamiliar with its Dutch origins. Santa becomes a first name, Claus a surname, rather than being St Niclaus (Saint Claus/Nicholas) as its meant to be. Equally, once you do realise where this name comes from you’ll be called to remember Nicholas Bishop of Myra, remembered for a whole host of things including slapping the archheretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea. We ought to remember St Nicholas, who was a great gift giver himself, and since his feast day is the sixth of December, it isn’t inappropriate to remember him in Advent/Christmastide. Still, when it comes to the jolly old man who visits us each year, for me and my family, it’s Father Christmas.
My obsession with Father Christmas, or as even I called him then, Santa Claus began when I was a child. I would sneak downstairs to see what he had left for me (his presents were always left unwrapped in my house), usually a flashlight in my hands because one of my older brothers would be sleeping on the couch in the basement, where our Christmas tree was. Yet, despite being rather spoiled by the sheer volume and price of the presents I received, my obsession with Father Christmas had little to do with the presents, or at least the amount of presents. It was more about the mystery of Father Christmas, this being who visited every year, on a specific day. I would swear to my friends that I heard bells jingling, indicating the presence of his sleigh. I would go out on Christmas morning looking for sleigh-tracks on my roof (there was never enough snow to tell). I believed in Father Christmas until I was twelve years old, not because he gave me presents, but because he represented something, something about Christmas that I didn’t fully understand. It is perhaps telling that a year after I ceased believing in Santa Claus I began my life in Christ.
Since that time I have been able to resume my belief in Father Christmas without loosing my new life in Christ. You see, I realized what it is Father Christmas represents, he represents an enchanted cosmos. He represents a deeper reality, one that is beyond and yet upholds the reality of what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. He represents the reality of God-become-man and what that revealed about the universe God had created. Father Christmas represents the world Christ has revealed to us, the Kingdom of God come to Earth. He is all magic and goodness and generosity. He represents all the goodness of Faërie as baptised by the Church. He is the father of Christmas. Chesterton sees him as God himself, for who else would give us the gift of Christmas? But he is also father Christmas in a much more local way. He is the father of customs and rituals, of fun and laughter, of drink and food. Whether these traditions have Christian or non-Christian origins is inconsequential for Father Christmas has baptised them all and given them to us as ways to celebrate the coming of God into his own creation. So I believe in Father Christmas and thank him daily for the gift of myself.
What characters, historical or mythical, make you excited about Christ’s coming?
In what ways has your imagination prepared you to understand the truth of the Gospel?
|O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power
and come among us,
and with great might succour us;
that whereas, through our sins and wickedness
we are grievously hindered
in running the race that is set before us,
your bountiful grace and mercy
may speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory, now and for ever.
Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, The Book of Common Prayer, Church of England
Chesterton, Gilbert Keith (2013-06-10). Orthodoxy (Moody Classics) (p. 84). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Image: From The Coming of Father Christmas by Eliza F. Manning, F. Warne & Co. 1894, p. 16. British Library HMNTS 11650.f. Courtesy of the British Library via Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11229658286/in/set-72157638821811323