The Christmas machinery really is starting to kick in now. Hellingly and Upper Dicker will be having our Christingle services in support of the Children’s Society and carol services are starting to appear.
Soon the familiar figure of Father Christmas will be “Ho ho ho-ing” around the streets.
But what has Father Christmas got to do with Christmas?
Is there a danger that he takes over from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem?
Should we in fact ban him in order to make sure we don’t lose sight of Jesus?
The image we most associate with him is a big jolly old man in a fur trimmed red suit, in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
It’s an image that has its origins in the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore, “The Night Before Christmas”.
It was in America in the 19th century that the image became popular and was further embedded by the Coca-Cola company’s adverts of the 1930s.
The result is that for many children, who grow up to become adults, a main focus for Christmas is the visit of this “right jolly old elf” with “a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!”
The baby Jesus born in the humble stable is in danger of being lost in the background shadow of this larger than life character. The giving and receiving of presents takes over from the message of God’s action of love in salvation.
Materialism swamps the true message.
But hold hard!
Father Christmas is real! The whole legend of him begins with a Christian Bishop in fourth century Myra, St Nicholas whose feast day the Church celebrates on December 6.
He was well known for his generosity of spirit in giving gifts to the poor.
There is the lovely story of saving a family in debt from being sold as slaves by lobbing bags of gold through the children’s open window at night which landed in their slippers, thus giving birth to stories of his nocturnal leaving of presents and of the hanging up of stockings.
So, far from being in competition with Jesus, Father Christmas is the essence of expressing love driven by a Christian faith.
Father Christmas himself points to the baby Jesus born in the stable as the expression of God’s love which should be everyone’s motivation for acts of generosity and kindness, not just at Christmas but all year round.
So let’s keep Father Christmas, but let us also not forget his true origin and make sure we keep Jesus in the frame!