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My first thought on hearing Santa Claus didn’t exist, was how to break the devastating news to Mum and Dad. It would come as such a disappointment, as they spent so much time and money getting ready for Christmas. Surely it couldn’t be true. I felt like crying, so desperately did I not want believe it.
That morning was one of the bleakest ever for we tiny tots at Burton on the Wolds Parochial Infants’ School, the terrible knowledge having spread across the playground like wildfire. There’s always one spoilsport who delights in delivering bad news.
I hadn’t known what to answer when Timmy Brattlesnot asked if I believed in Father Christmas. My whole world shattered by the existence of Santa merely being questioned, let alone brazenly challenged, I stood dumbfounded. Hadn’t I seen him with my own two eyes in his grotto at Lewis’s store in Leicester, and sat on his knee? Even if his beard was a bit lopsided and his breath smelt of sherry. But my inability to answer straightaway was answer enough for Timmy. He had sown the seeds of doubt. The little devil skipped off, chanting with undisguised glee to, all and sundry: “Bryan believes in Santa Claus! Bryan believes in Santa Claus!” I felt a terrible sense of betrayal by all those I knew had also believed in Santa Claus up till that moment. We had been discussing his annual descent down our chimmneys for weeks. Now, some of them were even pretending to laugh at me, while others turned glum and shameful expressions towards the wall.
The instant loss of innocence was followed by an onset of guilt with the realisation I was torn between selfish thoughts of who was going to deliver my presents that year, and having to inform Mum and Dad of the terrible tidings. You can understand my quandary, I’d only just learned to count to 10, and was hardly able recite the alphabet up to ‘F’ without getting tongue-tied. Philosophy and existentialism weren’t on the curriculum at Burton Infants’. Trying to explain the non-existence of Santa to my poor parents would be an impossible task. I could only picture the tears rolling down their cheeks as I destroyed their illusion.
The concept of something ceasing to exist because I stopped believing in it was way beyond me. If I’d stopped believing in Santa, would it follow I’d lose belief in the sackfuls of toys he brought each Christmas? And that would lead to them no longer existing? Was the whole shebang just a matter of belief? I even began wondering if the ones left from last Christmas would still be there when I got home. Albeit in the rather battered state I’d left them that morning. Or would they have vanished into thin air along with my former unquestioning belief? All were worries I hadn’t had to think of before Timmy Brattlesnot’s mortifying revelation. As if the prospect of a giftless Christmas wasn’t enough already.
Like most children of five, I’d invested a lot of time reciting long lists to my older sister to write to Santa at the North Pole on my behalf. And then some smart Alec had to go and ask whether I believed in him. It was such a shock. I hadn’t thought of anything quite so radical before. Could it actually be possible Santa didn’t exist? It was hard to take in. To have answered Timmy’s question with: “Of course not” would’ve been like denying the birth of little, baby Jesus in the manger. That would come soon enough, when I became confused by the knowledge Jesus wasn’t actually Christian, but of the Jewish faith. He wasn’t even English. And, as someone once told me when I got to art college, many years later, move one letter two places, and Santa becomes Satan. I think he was on LSD at the time. I told him that Claus can become Lucas by employing a similar method. His answer to that was that life isn’t always game of Scrabble, which is true enough. Amazing what wisdom can be generated under the influence of strong narcotics.
To get back to the point. I felt as though I’d bitten into the serpent’s apple. Without belief in Santa, life would be full of disappoinment from that moment on. And so it turned out to be.
But all was not quite lost. Three decades later, I learned Santa had existed, albeit far from the North Pole or Lapland. I even passed his birthplace. Far from being filled with fir trees, snow and reindeer, a scorching Mediterranean sun ripens bananas on the trees surrounding Demre on the Lycian coast of Southern Turkey. I was on a bus to Antalya as row upon row of huge greenhouses flashed by, and someone said: “That’s where the story of the real Father Christmas started. He lived there.” And then it was gone. Wish Timmy Brattlesnot had been on that bus, I can tell you.
At the time Santa Claus (Nikolaos of Myra) lived in Demre, during the 4th century, it was known as Myra. A Roman town populated mainly by Greeks it was one of the most important places in the province of Lycia. Which only goes to make things even more complicated if you think of the saying: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”
Because Santa was born in Turkey might explain why we eat turkeys at Christmas. And talking of saints, Greeks, who lived in Turkey, and England, turns out St George, patron saint of England, wasn’t English either. Just like Santa Claus, he was a Greek, who lived in Turkey. Funny that.
And even funnier than that – in the way of coincidences – one of the places I mentioned on my other blog Pedersen’s Last Dream this very week, just happens to be called Myre, a small village on the island of Langøya, north of the Arctic Circle. It’s almost as Lapland as you can get. Maybe there’s been a bit of a mix up, and that’s where Santa really came from.
So you can see why I’ve been inspired to start my KROOC – Keep Religion Out Of Christmas – campaign. It’s a movement to return the old pagan tradition of celebrating Yuletide with a massive guilt-free binge, instead of Christmas and its long series guilt-ridden hangovers leading into the New Year.
To my mind, replacing the ancient mid-winter kneesup of unbridled over-indulgence and mass consumerism with a Christian festival amounts to sacrilege, if you get my drift. Religious zealots, who want to bring religion into everything, have been trying to ruin it for more than two thousand years. Well, practically since Jesus was born
It’s the one time of year these do-gooders should give charity and kindness a rest and allow all hard-drinking materialists to stuff themselves silly and drink themselves into a stupor. A time to exchange garish pullovers, silly socks and soppy cards with relatives and other people you don’t really like anymore. A time to get into debauchery and even greater debt.
Being drunk for days on end is a right nobody should deny pagans. Okay, I like a good Christmas carol to weep over just as much as any other sozzled drunk. But then again, if you fill my horn with plenty enough, I’ll sob my eyes out over Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and The Pogues’ Fairy tale of New York too. It’s all the preaching against blatant consumerism that goes with it that gets up my nose.
I bet Jesus was more than partial to a tipple around Christmas, what with it being his birthday and all. Well, wouldn’t you be if you could turn ordinary tap water into wine? With a talent like that, he’s the sort of bloke who would get no end of invitations to parties around this time of year, and it’s very hard to refuse a few refills once you get going, take it from someone who knows.
So, vicar, Christmas is really a time to give the bible-thumping a rest. Take some advice from a pagan, let your hair down, knock back a brandy or four, have a good old snog under the mistletoe before raising your cassock and prancing about in front of the yule log three sheets to the wind.
Copyright © 2013 Bryan Hemming
Une fois. Encore.
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