As the year draws to a close it is customary to look back over the past twelve months, picking out the highs and lows.
Unfortunately, if I were to attempt this task there is a real danger that I could end up sounding like Victor Meldrew, because there were so many decisions made, locally as well as internationally, that I simply did not believe! Anyway, this is supposed to be the season of Peace on Earth to men of goodwill, so in this spirit, I will simply express the hope for better things in 2017…
Perhaps it was the experience of spending longer than usual in bed last week while fighting off the flu, or simply paying more attention to the lyrics of seasonal songs being played on the radio, but I found myself looking back to my earliest memories of Christmas. Was there a time, I wondered, when my belief in Santa Claus was put to the test in the manner described so vividly in this verse from the song “I Believe in Father Christmas” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer:
“And I believed in Father Christmas,
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise.”
Knowing what I was like as a child, it is extremely doubtful that I would have contemplated depriving myself of the unforgettable experience of waking up on Christmas morning to find a pillowcase bulging with toys at the foot of my bed. It was no big deal if Santa sometimes had to rely on help from parents when it came to completing those worldwide deliveries of toys. Finding a doll one year did cause me much more concern, until it dawned on me that I was looking in my sister’s pillowcase instead of my own! For her part, she was equally surprised to find a toy machine gun!
Well, there was a war on you know!
On the other hand, one is entitled to ask if pretending to be Santa could bring parenthood itself into disrepute. I did wonder why there was never a drum in my pillowcase - the noise would not have bothered Santa - he would have been long gone before I started banging it. Mind you I have made up for it since, although not everyone has been prepared to march to my tune.
Robert Service makes a more serious point in his short poem called The Sceptic.
“My Father Christmas passed away
When I was barely seven.
At twenty-one, alack-a-day,
I lost my hope of heaven.
Yet not in either lies the curse:
The hell of it’s because
I don’t know which loss hurt the worse --
My God or Santa Claus.”
I could be wrong, but it seems highly likely in today’s world that there are plenty of people who feel this way. However, John Betjeman concludes his “Christmas” poem on a more optimistic note with this verse:
“No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.”
Well there you have it. All that remains is to wish everyone a peaceful Christmas. In an ideal world this would not involve the slaughter of millions of birds and animals for our consumption, but the world is far from ideal, so we just have to do what we can to make it a better place for all God’s creatures...