Category Archives: Festivals

Is Santa real and do Angels have feet?

This season is so alive with wonderfully powerful and magical stories. Children and adults alike have their imaginations charmingly tickled as they strain their ears to hear sleigh bells in the night sky, or engage with the image of glowing hay surrounding  an adorable baby and baaing, fluffy lambs.

But as they grow up they want to know the answer to a question never far from their lips the rest of the time….Is it real? Sure you’ll agree that they ask it about as often as “Are we nearly there yet” on a car journey don’t they?

If it’s not real, what do they lose? What do we lose as parents, otherwise trying to make Christmas as magical and wonderfully mysterious as possible?

Why do we tell stories? Stories can show us truths and teach us things. Stories can be a way we deal with things we don’t understand. Stories can entertain us and we can lose ourselves in them and imagine we’re the characters. Stories can be inherited traditions, long cherished as part of our culture’s way of connecting across time with deep truths.

Do stories necessarily lose their potency if they are found not to be based in truth? Now, I’m not a philosopher as you know, so we won’t go into the whole ‘What is Truth?’ discussion here! But as far as our children are concerned, the question they – at some point – come to ask us about all the wonderful stories they hear, is whether the figures of Santa, God, Mary, Jesus really exist or existed and whether the events really happened.

I wish we adults had such meaningful conversations as our children. There was apparently a big discussion in the playground this week about whether you had to believe in Santa if you believed in God. The two were seen as inextricably linked. The whole idea of one package of beliefs going with another is a fascinating can of worms isn’t it?

Untitled design-9The other week I was playing the role of Mary in a dramatisation for local schools. (I always wanted to at school…didn’t know I’d only get to be Mary at 37! Not me above by the way!) I was rather tickled by one boy’s comment, that the elderly man playing the Angel Gabriel, couldn’t possibly be an angel. He added indignantly, “I saw his feet!” 

 

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We all have our own take on how to deal with reality and stories. My personal thoughts for what they’re worth, are that when my children ask me if Santa’s real I tell them he’s not BUT with a strict warning not to burst anyone else’s bubble. We still have loads of fun with Santa pictures on practically everything around the home; singing ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’ a zillion times, and leaving mince pies out for Santa, with a knowing chuckle that it’s really Daddy. But faced with a point blank question about what’s true and what’s not, I feel I need to answer.

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And if that means I re-examine my own beliefs about the account of the first Christmas and if I have to explore what I really believe about angels and how much I think stories within the Bible are figurative or imaginative models,  and how much they’re true to real life events, then so be it. It’s a good result for all of us.

And of course, if you don’t believe the Christmas story, then why would you confuse your children when they ask you if that’s real? But that’s just always puzzled me.

I want my children to decide for themselves what’s real. But they do look to us for opinions on the way. They ask for a bit of a steer  about what really happened versus what is a story of Disney-like fantasy.

I will tell my children I don’t believe in Santa. I will tell my children I believe that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in very humble circumstances long prophesied by spiritual people through the ages – something which never fails to excite me. I will tell them I find believing in angels – especially the gold winged flying variety – really tough! (And of course, when we look a little deeper we may see that this version is more due to Victorian artists than Biblical accounts.) 2

But what an opportunity…whatever your beliefs, to be able to explore with your children how a story is never simply JUST a story, and perhaps never simply true.

Some stories can have more basis in fact than others. Some can be literally true, although they’re bound to have some spin on them. Some can be figuratively true in that they point to truth. And of course, if we separate Santa from St Nicholas we see where both the Santa and the Christmas story connect:  bringing kindness and joy to the world, irrespective of race, wealth or beliefs. We need both stories, and what bits you think are true is inevitably the compelling discussion of the holidays both for children and adults. May feel a bit daunting, but I think it’s worth grabbing the bull…or the reindeer…or the oxen…..by the horns/antlers/horns!

Please do share your thoughts – how do you deal with Christmas stories with your children? At what point do you tell them about Santa? and what have you told them about the first Christmas?3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why don’t we celebrate Halloween?

Halloween has lost its way.  It WAS all about light repelling darkness. Druids carved out frightening pumpkin faces and lit them in their windows to ward off evil spirits; they were seeking to reassert control of good over evil and to protect their homes from malign powers, on the night the dead were thought to visit the living. 1

Today, it’s children who are decked out in gory wigs and skulls, pretending to be those visiting ghouls. I totally appreciate that many Mums I know choose to tightly control how Halloween is marked in their homes. Wearing an old sheet in a bid to get some chocolates from the neighbours hardly means inculcating a sense of the manipulative power of evil in your children. However, the question I’m left with is this: why are we – on one level – somehow fascinated by evil and how does it affect us?

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I understand how going into Poundland and seeing a mass of green witch wigs, orange spiders and plastic blood-stained fingers, gets many children excited. That’s the crux of the matter for me.

Hardly a night goes by without some documentary on television detailing horrific crimes. The Sunday Papers give break-downs of exactly how a hostage has been tortured in minute detail. It sells. Under the cover of current affairs, it’s permitted by society. I believe there’s a streak within us all  – and it surfaces with different prompts – that gets excited by evil. This is complicated and I don’t profess to understand it, but it’s why the most docile of people can be gripped by a thriller about an axe murderer, or the grimmest of crime dramas.

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I think it’s important to recognise this proclivity, but it’s vital not to indulge it. When we indulge it, we let go of a bit more humanity and we also tell our children that’s ok, or possibly worse still, that it’s a joke.

I remember reading a grisly book. It was well written, by a highly regarded novelist, but it detailed dreadful crimes. I couldn’t give it to the charity shop, so I put it in the bin. I didn’t want anyone else carrying the burden of having read what I’d read and feeling guilty for keeping going too long. Choosing to read another chapter was wrong and I lost a bit of humanity in the process.

Today, whatever you believe about the tangible presence of evil, we can all recognise darkness in our society. If only we were able to remodel Halloween and encourage our children to see this as a time of celebrating light overcoming darkness, in how we engage with poverty, homelessness and vulnerability in our communities.

We often feel overwhelmed by suffering we see around us. This Halloween our children will be putting up lanterns (still pumpkins) and remembering people who need light in the darkness of their lives. We’ll be dressing up as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and going to one of the many Light parties churches and other organisations put on around this time – children can still do the apple-bobbing and pumpkin carving, but with a positive message to take home.  And, because we don’t just want to be merely spinning the story, we aim to try and shine some light, however small, in a practical way, buying some hats to be taken by a friend of ours helping refugees in Calais.

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The days in the Church calendar of All Hallows and then All Souls (both following Halloween) are about remembering those who’ve died. Their lives may have shone a powerful light on our own.  Maybe we can start using Halloween as a way to lighten the lives of others and bring hope rather than fear?

So how do you mark Halloween? Should I just take a chill pill and have fun? Or do you think there’s a sinister side we need to keep in check? And if we want to, how can we be light overcoming darkness? Please do join in the debate.