The Christmas Story

I asked my daughter (10) and son (8) what Christmas was all about, and they got it all wrong.

At first, they struggled, waffling on about Santa, trees and gifts, but then they introduced religions.

“My friend Abdullah is not Christian, so they don’t have a tree, but they still have Christmas presents” offered my son.

“Chanukah or Hannukah is the Jewish Christmas” suggested my daughter. “So different religions just have different names for Christmas.”

My wife decided to chip in at this point: “Christmas is Christian, so what is it about then?”

I knew what she was driving at – she wanted them to tell the story of the Nativity, but it wasn’t working; and as they struggled, she began to get frustrated, so I thought I’d wrap it up – after all, I’m the Dad. I get to be the smart-alick.

I said to her, “Christmas is confusing for children because there is a lot of white noise obscuring the signal – the Christmas Tree has nothing to do with the Nativity, Santa is another one. If Christians don’t understand how it all fits together, how can children?”

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Nevertheless, she turned back to the children, “Jesus was born in a manger in a stable. There were three wise men who gave the baby gifts…”

Of course, the children were immediately reminded, and they picked it up and soon everyone was on the same page. Great. Except it wasn’t. Not for me anyway.

“That’s not what Christmas is all about at all!” I declared.

They stopped and looked at me.

“Christmas, the meaning of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, is summed up in one book above all others.”  I had their attention.

My wife raised an eyebrow, “Go on then – what book is this?”

“Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ – otherwise known as ‘Scrooge’!”

She looked at me in disbelief. My son and daughter gleefully announced that they knew this story.

“Exactly. The story is not religious, but there is a superstitious device in the ghosts. It starts with Marley’s ghost, can you name the other ones?”

“The ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.” They chimed in unison.

“Very good. So before all the ghosts what was Scrooge like?”

“Oh, he was horrible, nasty and a bully” suggested my boy

“Yes, he was a selfish miser and only thought about money all the time.” said my daughter.

“That’s right, he was all of that and worse. But, at the end of the story, what was Scrooge like then?” I asked.

“Oh he was much nicer, Dad. He was kind and happy!” said the lad.

“He gave presents and time off and was generous and people stopped being scared of him” said my girl.

“Exactly!” I chimed, “You’ve got it! – That’s the point of Christmas, that sums it up perfectly. It’s all about generosity, kindness, love, compassion, companionship, sharing, giving gifts, feasting on delicious food using the best china, it’s not meant to be business as usual, it’s SPECIAL.”

“So it’s not about celebrating the birth of baby Jesus?” my daughter asked.

“Not really. I mean, to some people, yes it celebrates that, but other people of other religions don’t think like that. In fact some Christians get so het up that people seem to be missing what-they-see-as the real meaning of Christmas, that THEY miss the spirit of Christmas embodied in the story of Scrooge’s change.”

I think Christmas is about change, we’re all going to die eventually, so we ought to make the best of life while we can, even if it is only for one special day that we wear a paper crown and feast like a royal. Some years it will be fun, other years, not as much. We all have to deal with our own ghost of Christmas past, we can affect the present one and the future ones, so that’s the real meaning of Christmas for me, irrespective of beliefs or lack of them.

A look at a Christmas past may bring regrets if you don’t accept Christmas; it’s very difficult to avoid it every year, so you may as well take control. The film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has a similar supernatural device (the angel, Clarence) to show a man what an impact he has had on his community when he himself thinks his past is meaningless and worthless, and considers suicide. Of course, everything is different (and much worse) without his contribution, but the bit that gets me, is when the spirit of Christmas brings the tears – when everyone rallies round in a wealth of generosity and love.

The Christmas message is not about religion, but about humanity and community. The inn keeper had no room for Mary and Joseph, but didn’t turn them away – they got a stable to spend the night. They weren’t expecting to have a baby in there, and they were not expecting a visit from oriental kings bearing gifts from afar. The Nativity is filled with humanity, kindness and generosity. The message is everywhere if you care to look – for example, John Lewis television commercials – the famous one of the ceasefire between the Brits and the Germans on Christmas Day, but also this year’s “Man on the Moon” – we ought to bear in mind those who are alone at Christmas, or forgotten about. So why not use Christmas to reach out, to bring cheer? Why not congratulate yourself for getting through another year?

So feast like a king, and welcome the Christmas Spirit into your heart you old Scrooge!

Am I right?

 

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Is Santa Real, Or Is He Really You, Dad?

Christmas season – trees are up, decorations everywhere, and schools have carols and Nativity plays.

“Dad?” asked my eight year old son, “Boys at school say that Santa is just you.”

“Me?”

“Well, the parents, I mean. Santa is not real. Is he? It’s just the parents pretending”

“Do you know what Santa looks like?” I asked him back.

“Yes, he’s big and round, and he’s got a big white beard and a red suit with a black belt.”

“Well, then. If you know what he looks like, then he must be real.”

“But, D-a-a-a-d…!”

“OK, OK. The answer is actually simple: If you believe – if you really believe in Santa, then he exists – he’s real.”

“What happens if you don’t believe in Santa, Dad?”santa

“If you stop believing in Santa, or if you’ve never believed in Santa, or if you’ve never even heard of Santa – then, of course, there’s no Santa for you.  For you He doesn’t exist, He’s not real, but as long as you really believe in him, He’s real”.

“What happens if I don’t believe in Santa, Dad?”

“Then you won’t get gifts from Santa any more, just from me – and mum and everyone else, just none from Santa.”

Now, I didn’t tell him (yet), but this truth is not restricted to the belief in Santa; it equally well applies to Jesus, Mohammed, Ra, Jehovah and God in general, whatever name is used.

For those who believe, Jesus/Mohammed is real, but for those who do not or no longer believe, He’s nothing special to them.

This is not an argument against belief, nor is it one for it. The simplest truth that underpins all faith, is the sincere belief, the honest belief in something, and when that falters and goes, it is gone.

I look around at decorations and images of Santa everywhere. How can it be that He doesn’t exist? How is it possible that all the rational adults have colluded together to pretend – to lie – about the existence (and even the appearance) of Santa Claus? Why would this happen? What lesson could it give to children if Santa was made up? That their parents have lied, and everyone – even Hollywood – has helped?

No. That would be unacceptable; Santa, and belief in Santa, Christmas and all religions has to be respected.

Equally, though, when and if someone no longer really believes, then “pop” it is all over, and He vanishes for them – but not for everyone else, they must be allowed to continue to believe and to receive the gifts for being good boys and girls.

Merry Christmas!

Taking the Hump

I was reminded today of a time a few years back – when I was younger, more carefree, childless and still unmarried.

I was driving a Jaguar and wearing a leather jacket. I was courting the girl who was unlucky enough to become my wife.

She was involved with an organisation in Govan, Glasgow, to which a local “character” belonged. This was Sandy The Ginger Haired Hunchback, and he took a shine to me and my ridiculous car.

One day before Christmas, Sandy limped up to give me a Christmas gift – one of his old leather jackets.

I was in shock for a beat, then vibrated between being massively insulted and dying of laughter. I managed to compose myself long enough to say:

“Thanks, Sandy; you shouldn’t have, I’m sure it will fit like a glove”.

Uh-hu hump

Ghosts of Christmas Pisst

Back at work, I was appraised of “The 2014 Office Christmas party”. Boy, I’m glad I don’t go to these things; they are just awful.

In the past, if I’m coerced about attending stuff like this –  I just pay my share but then don’t bother turning up. If anyone asks later, I pretend I was unwell or something unexpected occurred. It is money well spent.

At least this most recent one was free – meaning I could not-go and not-pay as well. I take this to be an excellent Christmas present to  myself.

[Insert High Five here]

I was not alone because many didn’t bother turning up for “The 2014 Office Christmas party”, those few who did actually attempted to eat all the (free) food and drink all the (free) drink. We’re talking here about chaps eating three three course meals. Unopened bottles of wine were smuggled out under coats. Ugly.Nicking Bottles of wine

Plus one of the senior management was ‘approached’ regarding his ‘behaviour toward females’ from another firm sharing the venue. Yikes. Scuffles were narrowly avoided.

As for me, I had another brilliant Christmas at home with the family. Perfect.

And it usually is good for me. Although I do recall one year, many years ago…

It was when I was single and dating a young slapper. I was invited to meet her family at their home down in the Scottish Borders on Christmas Day. I tried but could not get out of it.

We arrived, and I was placed in the living room for the expected awkwardness while the mother prepared the Christmas meal. After an eternity, dinner was announced, then, as we were sidling into seats around the table, the family dog suddenly flipped – with a bark and a jump it had sunk its teeth into the turkey and dragged it off at speed round the house and eventually under a bed upstairs where it shat itself from nerves.

There was much screaming and chasing, followed by damp cloths, disinfectant and hoovering.

This was my first (and only) vegetarian Christmas dinner.

Ever since, whenever I smell disinfectant, I think of vegetarians.

Happy New Year!

xmas dog incident