The top room to my old house was dusty with clutters of yellowing furniture, a rickety piano and retired paintings. It was cold, sitting in the corner of our house without the standard double-glazing. From beyond its low windows you could catch a glimpse of the apple orchard my dad attempted; a keen gardener all his life. Those apples were for cooking though; bitter as hell if you took them freshly fallen from soggy grass. Still, it had to be done.
I must have been about six-years-old when I stuck my head round the door to this strange room and saw him. He was dressed in his red suit with white edging, a thick beard and potbelly. In fact, he was a handful short of a green cola bottle. My eyes widened, heart thumping. Without catching my breath, I leapt from the small step and raced to top of the stairs faster than you can say, “jingle bells”. I moved towards my brother’s bedroom. His wooden door was hollow, with small dents at various points. I bolted through, stopping still in front of his bed.
“It’s him!” I said.
Luke sat up, rubbing a hand across his pale face.
Five years my senior, Luke replied with some skepticism.
He swung his bare feet out from under the duvet and followed me back down stairs. We stood on the narrow step together. I waited as he pushed the door forward. With dropped shoulders, he looked around the room. There was nothing extraordinary to see. I guess later that morning we found our stockings, though I can’t really recall when or what we got. What I do remember is, it was about six months before I went into that room again alone. And what’s more; it wasn’t until years later, when it was converted into a sitting room, that I ever felt at ease in it again. That’s belief.
At this time of year, there are all sorts of attitudes. There’s the Grinch, the Scrooge or the Carol-singer, to name but a few. There are those like my six-year-old self; entirely convinced. Others like Luke; wanting to believe. And still more who have no time for the whole charade, which I must say, is a damn shame. We’re reminded at Christmas of the sick, the poor and the estranged. People whose situations are untainted by Christmas cheer. Yet there’s many more who write the entire season off as a commercial stunt. So what if it is?
The thing about Christmas is that it marks both an end, and a beginning. Whether you’re a Christian or not, the merit of Christmas is actually in reminding us that, among all the corruption and scare mongering, there’s a basic human goodness that pervades community. And even if Coke did invent Santa’s image, he brings a little more excitement to our lives. Most people love hanging with kids at Christmas, though perhaps not so much actual parents. The Christmas Eve tantrums can be enough to skew their view of spritely angels. Nevertheless, the preceding weeks of the season, whether you admit it or not, get everyone a wee bit pumped.
So, regardless of whether you’re faithless, or a disbeliever, it might be worth unearthing that six-year-old inside. That kid who sat on a crowded sofa on Christmas Eve watching, for the umpteenth time, Bill Murray in A Christmas Carol. That kid who scraped at wrapping paper under the tree a little each day before Christmas. Or even the grumbling adult you’ve become, who still gives those kids a little smirk when you catch sight of their bright faces outside Santa’s Grotto.
I didn’t believe in Santa because I saw him; I saw him because I believed. An older sister of mine still finds it hard to admit that perhaps she didn’t really hear his sleigh, or witness the reindeers dashing through the night sky. The power of belief, and one’s ability to convince oneself, is both our vulnerability and our honesty. It’s also a feature of our humanity that should at times be embraced, because after all, it’s what gets us through the hardship and despair. It’s the foundation of that small word; hope.
This year I dare you to believe; just for the freakin’ sake of it.
Nollaig Shona Duit. Merry Christmas.