My small son has dictated his letter to Santa to me because he can't write yet: Dear Santa, please could I have a sledge, a Big Paddington, and an alarm clock. I'm scared of you (emphasis mine). Merry Christmas. I like the way he has pitched it; vulnerable, yet festive.
But to be honest I am not massively comfortable with the whole Santa thing. My son is grappling enough with the real/non-real issue at the moment. Unicorns? Not real. Wildebeests? Real. Pirates? Real, but not quite like the ones in books. Witches? Oh don't get me started. So he did give me the option to do away with Santa once and for all by asking if he was real, but I couldn't do it, I sat on the fence. He's sort of real, I said, he's magic. What, like God and Jesus? Well, not quite as real as them...
And here-in lies the problem. I have the responsibility of shaping is whole little world of what is and what isn't, and my choice is a world that world features God and Jesus, the message that we are treasured and listened to, that someone loved us so much they died and came back to life to tell us not to be afraid, and fed us with their own body and blood. You don't get that kind of commitment from Santa. But am I making that up too? Am I choosing the right lies?
My small daughter knows God, she seems to have always had a relationship with Him. I remember finding her, aged two, with a book of icons and asking what she was doing. Listening to God she replied. At four her brother asked her who God was and she said 'he's someone we can't see, but he's cuddling all of us all of the time'. But the passion of her eagerness to believe seems to be equally suited to Father Christmas, as she told us the other day that he knew what she wanted for Christmas because he could see right inside her head. Evidently she has a relationship with him too, and it breaks my heart to think that if she finds out Santa is made up then God and Jesus will go with him.
I couldn't handle that because my jaded, patchy grown-up's faith is so strengthened by her perfect child-like one. At this time of year I need that more than ever; I honestly don't know how people survive Christmas without Christ. I mean, I don't judge you, if anything I'm impressed. Because this season isn't kind to me and I need to believe that in the darkest of all of our winters a light shines, a friend stands at our side; arms are around us in our deepest cold. And without bells and choirs of angels in the midst of chaos there will be a voice which says rest in me, I take all of your burdens, and I ask for nothing.
But I'll let you into a little secret here about us funny religious folk; I don't think any of us actually completely believe: deep down, there is always a little voice saying it's all made up really. How we respond to that voice is the work of our faith and our spirituality. We can attempt to quieten it, as people always have and always will my doing terrible things to prove we are right or we can let it ring out, knowing that as real love is the thing we do when we don't necessarily feel it, real faith is the thing we do when we doubt the most. And maybe Christmas is a celebration of that, the memory of a time when we were told that its ok to just hope, where a bit of magic is alright, when it's not lies we tell ourselves and our children, it might be ok for us all to believe, even just a little bit. When we can turn to someone who offers rest and peace and unconditional love and everything else which might terrify us and just accept it all, saying I'm scared of you. Merry Christmas.