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Friday, 9 December 2016

Santa Claus is(n't) coming to town by Ros Bayes





I have a vivid recollection of a conversation I had with my exasperated mother when I was 15 years old. “But why have you stopped believing in God?” she cried. “We’ve always brought you up to know He was real.”

 “Yes, well, you told me Father Christmas was real, and that didn’t turn out to be true,” I retorted. I suspect that deep down I knew I was talking rubbish, and had seized on something that made a handy excuse to maintain my new (and fairly short-lived!) position of atheism. Nevertheless, I never forgot that conversation, and found myself pondering it as I contemplated my earliest Christmases as a mother of small children.

I decided to adopt a principle that if I told my children something they could absolutely bank on it being true to the best of my knowledge. This meant not pretending that Santa Claus was real. That didn’t have to mean that he didn’t feature in our Christmas – only that the girls were in on the pretence. It didn’t, as far as I could observe, diminish their excitement on Christmas morning as they eagerly dived on their stockings to see what surprises they contained.

Although I told them Father Christmas was only pretend, I didn’t see the need to tell them where the presents in their stocking actually came from – they worked this out for themselves at various stages and by various means. I remember the day my four year old daughter figured out that I was the tooth fairy (an entity she had always known was pretend), and then, with a look of enlightenment, added, “Oh – so you’re Father Christmas, too!” (Note: I'm not prescribing that Christians shouldn't play along with the Santa Claus myth with their children, but simply describing what has worked for me and my family.)

The principle of truth-telling turned out to be of very considerable importance to our second child who has complex multiple disabilities, and whose life has been marked by many operations, some orthopaedic, some life-saving, some ophthalmologic and now, facing her 36th operation to date, to correct a problem causing repeated dental infections. She has come to know that she can rely on what I tell her – if I say a certain procedure isn’t going to hurt, she can relax and know that it won’t. If she is begging me to tell her that a certain procedure won’t hurt and I know it will, I will be ruthlessly honest even if it upsets her, for that is the only way she can prepare herself for what is to come. When I hear care staff assuring her that, for example, a flu injection won’t hurt at all, I contradict them openly because she needs to know she is being told the truth, and she doesn’t trust those who lie to her. 

The difficulty came when her school made much of Santa Claus and assumed that all their children, all of whom had some degree of learning disability, believed in him.  When I gently tried to remind her that it was all pretend I found that the school's teaching trumps mum's, as she retorted, "Mummy's teasing!"

I have been thinking about how this truth-telling principle applies to us as writers in what we keep being told is the “post-truth era”. I suppose there are some unpalatable truths in the Christian Gospel – such as that God is not impressed with my selfishness and does not intend to leave me exactly as I am, but wants me to be conformed to the image of His Son. But such truths are, of course, enfolded in the glorious overarching truth of His great love and goodness. So as Christian writers we should not shy away from the difficult truths but we should ensure that they point to the Truth of the grace and love of God.

And what of fiction writers? When I was a child, my mother never accused me of “lying”; the phrase she always used was “telling stories” – a negative connotation which in my view should never be given to that honourable activity! But when we tell stories, we are making stuff up, creating characters who are not real, describing events that never happened. Nonetheless, we can, I believe, use the pretence, just as I did with Father Christmas, as a vehicle for certain realities and truths. That stuffed stocking became proof for our children, not of the existence of Father Christmas, but of our love for them. In the same way, even when we write realistic stories which acknowledge the presence of evil, they should be written in the spirit of the foundational truth which underpins our universe – that there is a hope for our lives, and it is grounded in the character of God, so that no matter how dark the valleys we, or our characters pass through, and even if there is not a “happy ending” to one particular story, in the end all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.


Ros Bayes has 8 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting point about the “post-truth era”. I don't think we as kids in a different era had difficulty understanding the difference between, say, Peter Pan and Jesus, but today's kids might find it more difficult, since they tend to be led to believe nothing is absolute or absolutely true.

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  2. Such an interesting article, especially as we are in exactly the same place just now - although we made the decision not to say that Santa was real, our autistic and very literal seven year old daughter is all kinds of confused with the talk at school, and swings between insisting that he is real, and saying that he was real but is now dead (perfectly accurate after we'd told her the St Nicholas story, but potentially even more upsetting to her friends than saying he's pretend!)

    And lots of people have been surprised that I, a professional storyteller, haven't wanted to go along with Santa. I try to explain that it's because pretending he's real doesn't allow the children to be in charge of the story. The whole point of a story is that you can inhabit it safely in your imagination. The only way to do that is to have a sort of mental ejector seat button hidden away: the button marked "this is a story"!

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  3. Great post. Stories are a fantastic way of getting truth across, especially the type that is so often unpalatable. Can help make it easier to cope with. And given our Lord told stories to get His message across, I've never had problems with "making things up". Fiction has an invaluable role.

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  4. Thank you all for your kind comments. And A(me) I love your metaphor of the ejector seat button - yes, that's exactly it.

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  5. Love this. As a fiction writer, I hope I always do as you've said here, Ros, I certainly intend that. Hope is the great thing ... always there is hope. As for Father Christmas/Santa, I'm always surprised about kids having problems, or parents worrying, about the 'truth' thing here, since I so clearly remember at age about 6, waking up on Christmas eve night, and seeing a parent (can't remember which!) placing a doll on the end of my bed, and screwing up my eyes again, totally content that it was a parent! From which, I guess, I must have already realised that the whole thing was a wonderful game of let's pretend on both sides... a game you played at Christmas. Other times of year, you played it about the tooth fairy!

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