Santa Claus

NO: Mark Woods

I admit it. I was the Grinch who stole Christmas. It was an ordinary school assembly, taken by me, an ordinary Baptist minister, one December. What might grab the assembled nine to 13-year-olds? As usual, inspiration failed to strike, so how about a little chat about the things that are always important to us and the things that we leave behind as we grow older ? like believing in Father Christmas, for instance?

So it was that I became the annual sacrificial media victim. To cut a painful story short, the only national newspaper that didn’t accuse me of blasting the childhood of 100 innocent souls was The Guardian. Some kind acquaintance even sent me a cutting from the Frankfurter Allgemeine ? ‘Es ist kein Weihnachtsmann’. Yep, that was me.

The irony is, I believe in Father Christmas, I really do. Boots, beard and Brian Blessed guffaws: the whole deal. I would do my level best to persuade children of all ages that he exists. The willing suspension of disbelief, that’s what I’d aim at. Not just the old half-eaten mince pie and dregs of sherry: I would hang a carrot on the door for the reindeer and take a bite out of it before bedtime. I would make hoof prints in the snow.

Why? Because Christianity is a religion, not some Gradgrind philosophy. It’s about imagination and joy. So I want children to learn belief. Children have to be given permission to dream of a world that’s bigger, brighter and more exciting than this one. The real joy-killer is saying to them: ‘But it doesn’t really exist, you know.’

Believing in Father Christmas doesn’t weaken faith. It’s by exercising that God-given belief muscle that we become able to bear the weight of lifelong, joyful and passionate commitment.

I was the Grinch who stole Christmas, but I didn’t mean to, honest.

Mark Woods is a Baptist minister and writer

YES: Phoebe Thompson

There are three reasons why I don’t think we should tell children about Santa Claus. First, it makes parents untrustworthy to their children. If parents would lie about as fundamental a thing as a large man in a red suit visiting their house each year (going to such lengths as leaving a half-eaten carrot, sherry and footprints, and even giving presents), then are they telling the truth about this Jesus fellow?

Secondly, it’s hugely confusing. The nativity is already bizarre enough without trying to include Rudolph and Santa in the manger scene. It’s a bit like Rise of the Guardians ? the recent film in which Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Sandman all unite together to save the world ? but at Christmas-time, baby Jesus is thrown into the mix.

Thirdly, it doesn’t make Christmas any more magical. Christmas is wonderful by its very nature ? with candlelit services and carols and snow and presents. We don’t need Santa to spice it up. Plus, why should Santa get the credit for buying great presents? I love the fact that my parents buy and give me gifts they think I will love, from them to me. Imagine if at a birthday party we all pretended that the gifts were from the Loch Ness Monster, instead of uniquely chosen by each of us.

It might be awkward with other parents, as there is the very great danger of your children telling other children ? but why shouldn’t they tell others at school about the real meaning of Christmas? Don’t we want them to talk about Jesus? And just think for a moment. We celebrate the birth of God on earth once a year. Just once. It’s the one opportunity we get to really explain the incredible grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to our children. So let’s not miss the opportunity, or stuff it up entirely, with wishy-washy references to sleighs and the North Pole.

Phoebe Thompson is the editor of Childrenswork magazine