Other children had other questions: how does he get around everyone in just one night? how can he carry all those presents? Where does he live (is it the North Pole)? The question I posed as a six year old was a simple one and was perhaps more pertinent: how could he get into our house when we didn’t have a chimney? The answer provided by my Dad was just as simple: he has a magic key. I was satisfied.
But more interestingly than that, I remain satisfied. That answer is more profound that at first glance. Firstly it completely and utterly answers the question. Secondly, although it appears to raise further questions (how does the key work? where did he get it? does it work for all houses?) it renders those questions redundant because their answers are located in the first answer: it is magic. The nature of magic is that it is magic and is therefore indivisible. It is a closed loop that logic cannot break into.
But here’s another question. Pondered by many, but whispered oh so quietly, as perhaps the undesired answer is already known. But let’s ask it openly and attempt to answer it.
Is Father Christmas real?
Real, unreal; these are modern words that polarise a greater truth that exists somewhere in between. But even truth is contextual. In our ever increasing literal world where things must be concrete, they must be pinpointed and we must be certain, do we throw out a closer more relevant truth of unknowing; they grey area of multiple truths all being correct at once? Like Heisenberg, who showed we can’t know both position and momentum, the more we are certain of one, the more the other slips away, so is it with myth.
Myth does not mean ‘untrue’ as dull literalist dogmatics would have you believe. It means ‘very true’ as if there is another dimension to truth, at right angles to all the facts, that makes a myth more true than fact.
In mathematics we use the square root of minus one, called the number i, as the imaginary impossible number. It can’t exist unless you imagine it. (Try it on any literal dogmatic unimaginative calculator if you need proof). And yet, if we include this imaginary number in various equations, it can help solve them. You can’t solve certain quantum mechanics problems without it. These problems are real world ones too, found in electrical engineering and computing. Without the imaginary number you wouldn’t be reading this on a computer.
So is the number i real or unreal? Real or unreal is the wrong question as i exists, even if it is imaginary and it has a real impact on the world. So even though it’s a dumb question, we have to say i is real.
So let’s return to the original question. Is Father Christmas real or unreal? Bear in mind that he is of similar substance to i. He has the same characteristics: he has a real impact on the world; he explains certain phenomena; he is needed to complete certain functions; he is the square root of minus one.
He is by the literal terminology, real.
So where can we find him?
Any old fat man in a red suit and fake beard is unlikely to be the real thing. A simple test that drawn upon history is this: is he wearing a hooded cloak? If not, and bears a bobble cap instead, he’s a Coke drinking imposter who’s probably in the payola of the neo-capitalist branding conspiracy to brainwash children. It was Haddon Sundblom, who drew the red-suited fat elf for the Coca-Cola company from 1931 to 1964. Sundblom said he was inspired by Swedish tomte, mythical little creatures with red caps and long white beards but his images owe a lot more to Thomas Nast’s 1863 drawing.
The real Father Christmas may not always be dressed in red (sometimes blue, sometimes green) and may have a holly wreath on his head if his hood is not up.
It was the New York Gazette which, in 1773, gave him to joke moniker of St. A Claus (based on the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’ which became ’Santa Claus’) a name which even Clement Moore rejected in his 1821 poem, sticking with St. Nicholas, the name of the 3rd century bishop who gave presents to the destitute. It was Moore who popularised reindeer as the preferred mode of transport. Prior to that, Father Christmas would more likely arrive on horseback.
But his origins are more mysterious and ancient. Originally he was the god Saturn, whose festival, Saturania was celebrated on December 23rd in the Greco-Roman world from pre-history to the arrival of Christmas in the fourth century AD. Saturn, now a fallen god, bowed to the greater authority of Jesus and swore to no longer demand child sacrifice. It is an irony that it was originally the children who were gifts for him rather than him bringing gifts to them.
In his new fallen role and new allegiance, Saturn even turned up at the nativity as one of the ‘wise men’ from the East, bearing gifts for the infant Saviour. Thus the pagan festival and the Christian one unite.
So be careful if you stay up late on the night of the 24th, you may just catch a glimpse of an anthropomorphism of one of the few ancient primal forces still left in the world.
Oh, and the answers to those other questions? If you really don’t want to know, look away now.
How can he carry all those presents? He carries only what is needed for each home with each trip.
Where does he live (is it the North Pole)? The North Pole is a literal version of the farthest place we can think of. Nobody ever said what it was the North Pole of…
How does he get around everyone in just one night? He does them all simultaneously. Since the number i can be all it needs to be at once, so can he. It’s also easy that he only needs to be where an imaginator resides and can easily be personified by them, they become him and do his work for him, as him.
Well, you did ask.
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