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Father Christmas


"And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world--the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn't find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

"'I've come at last,' said he. 'She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening.'

"And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.

"'And now,' said Father Christmas, 'for your presents. . . .'"

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan, 1950), pp. 86-87.

The fact is now quite well known that C. S. Lewis's friend and fellow author, J. R. R. Tolkien, objected to the presence of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Tolkien was a purist when it came to the act of what he called "sub-creation", and so he didn't like the way Lewis mixed his mythologies in Narnia. Despite Tolkien's criticism Lewis kept Father Christmas in the story. A letter which Lewis later wrote to a child reader explains why:

"As to Aslan's other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else's fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don't you really know His name in this world. Think it over and let me know your answer." Letters to Children, June 3rd 1953.

Lewis left Father Christmas in the story as a sort of clue, a pointer. Father Christmas acts as a sort of "John the Baptist" to identify Aslan as the Christ figure of Narnia.

Some Christians today object to the presence of Father Christmas in Christmas celebrations. They believe Father Christmas distracts attention that should rightfully go to Jesus Christ, the one whose birth we are really celebrating.

Lewis made a good point about this in his book, Reflections on the Psalms:

"There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen'. This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat." Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 48-49.

If we apply this logic to Christmas then we can say there is a time when Father Christmas (the festal aspect) and Jesus' birth (the religious aspect) can co-exist quite well in a child's celebration of Christmas. (It worked well for me as a child.) But there will come a time when that old unity will break up. And then the child must choose either to put Father Christmas or Jesus first. If he or she puts Jesus first then he or she can keep Father Christmas if they so choose. But if they put Father Christmas first then they will lose Jesus and all the true meaning of Christmas.

Personally, I decided long ago to put Jesus first. But for me that meant I could keep Father Christmas in the celebration, to the joy and delight of my children. One day each of them must make a choice as well. And I am trusting that they too will put Jesus first.

It is kind of like love. The appearance of agape (charity) in one's life doesn't mean that one must get rid of all the other loves: philia (friendship), storge (affection), eros (falling in love), venus (sexual love). Rather, the appearance of agape, God's kind of love, puts all the other loves in their proper place.

Personally I think there is a proper place for Father Christmas in the celebration of Jesus' birth. After all, Father Christmas is modeled on St. Nicolas who was the great giver of gifts to poor children, the bishop of Myra who participated in the Council of Nicea from which we Christians get our Nicene Creed. We have much to learn from Father Christmas. But when the time comes, it is clear whom we must put first. Father Christmas must serve Jesus, not the other way around.

Comments

Jeanie said…
Wow, this was well presented. I so tire of the argument in the (Christian) family over these things. Thoughtful and gracious. Thanks.
Will Vaus said…
Thanks for the compliment!
Ken Symes said…
Will,

This is an excellent article, well presented. I know it's from 2006, but I just happened upon it will searching the net and preparing my own Lewis posts on Christmas at the Mere C.S. Lewis blog. Lewis seems to range from being almost Ebenezer to almost Santa in what he has to say about Christmas!

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