Finished most of my “ship to home” shopping this afternoon. A few years ago I decided it was much easier to mail the chocolate mac-nuts, coffees, and calendars home instead of packing it all in the suitcase and then trudging through airports across the country.
Which made this post about G. K. Chesterton and the figure of Father Christmas an appropriate read for the day. The article, from The Imaginative Conservative starts with some commentary on the “dangerous habit” of celebrating Christmas well before Christmas Day. Then it turns into a brief history lesson, focusing on the difference between the American “Santa Claus” and the British “Father Christmas”:
Father Christmas has his roots in the personification of the Spirit of Christmas in the Merrie England of mediaeval times, though he really came of age in the seventeenth century as a spirit of resistance to the efforts of the Puritans to ban Christmas after their victory in the English Civil War. Believe it or not, the Puritan-controlled English government actually legislated to abolish Christmas, considering, reasonably enough, that the celebration of “Christ-Mass” was papist. Since the celebration of the Mass had been outlawed, it was natural that the celebration of “Christ-Mass” should be outlawed also. Traditional Christmas customs were banned and the Purityrannical rulers of England declared, in league with a certain White Witch, that it would be always winter but never Christmas.
As resistance to the tyranny grew, Old Father Christmas became the symbol of “the good old days”, a personification of Merrie England, with its feasting and good cheer, and its celebration of the liturgical year.
It is this Father Christmas that is celebrated with appropriate rumbustiousness by Chesterton, Tolkien and Lewis.
Father Christmas, of course, was the “writer” of a series of letters under the guidance of Tolkien at one point (he drew the picture attached to this post).
The remainder of the article retells a story by Chesterton about Father Christmas called “The Shop of Ghosts,” which is quite the beautiful (and British) little story. You can read the whole story here.
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It’s interesting to watch co-workers and friends maneuver “the Santa Claus” question. Some have jumped in gung-ho while others have constructed plans for how to explain things as their kids get older. It definitely makes me wonder if something like Father Christmas, in his own kind of strange glory, might be a better alternative.