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G. K. Chesterton on Santa Claus
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2016-12-25 15:06:11
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Our grandchildren from left: Sophia, Adriana, Collin, Nicholas

My wife Cathy and I have been truly blessed with four beautiful grandchildren: Sophia, Nicholas, Adriana and Collin, spanning in age from 2 to 7. They often come to visit at our home, but already, at the beginning of December, at the onset of the Christmas season, one begins to sense their excitement. Expectations are already in the air. It’s as if something wonderful is expected to happen; or it’s like coming home even when one is already home.


Those grandchildren of ours have learned the Christmas story mostly from their parents and grandparents. A few years ago I gave them a Christmas book which narrates the story of Christmas, as recorded in my own voice. Every year they bring it back to our home and place it under the Christmas tree. They want to hear the story again. The grandmother does something similar: she sets up the Christmas tree, the Christmas cards, plenty of figures of Santa Claus and, of course, the crib with its star, shepherds and sheep, donkey and cow, angels, three kings, camels, the holy family, the outside lights of a snow-man, etc. They especially like to tarry by the lights at the Bethlehem’s manger to stare at baby Jesus.


Of course there are cookies too, lovingly prepared by the grandmother for those I like to call “cookie monsters.” One of the grandchildren, Nicholas, who fancies himself a chef, likes to help his mother and grandmother with the cooking. The youngest, Collin, now almost two years old, just eats them.


In short, I suspect that in our grandchildren’s fantasy Christmas is a joyful mash-up of lights, trees, cookies, music, presents, and grandparents. The presents of course are hidden till Christmas eve, when Santa Claus arrives at the door via sled and deer and reveals them, with a twinkle in his eyes and a big smile on his face. Sometimes you see them rummaging  for them in the house’s closets where they surmise that Santa may have temporarily stored them. Once, when Santa arrived on the scene, his voice was recognized by the oldest grandchild as that of nonno, as they like  call him. He has since been told to refrain from talking to the children during his visit; so he mostly laughs and makes merry as he distributes the presents.


The question arises: why are children, aside from cookies and presents, so fascinated and mesmerized by the story of a little baby born in a manger, greatly loved and adored by his mother and father about whom the angels sing, when there are so many other fairy tales, legends, myths, fantasies galore, to be exposed to throughout the rest of the year? There is Robin Hood, King Arthurs, Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Mother Goose, the Chronicles of Narnia, and last but not least Santa Claus.


Actually the same question can be put to adults. We may at times feel that those are childish stories fit for children. And yet we go on reading them and yearly add others to our reading list such as Harry Potter, or perhaps the lord of the Rings trilogy and various other myths. Why this fascination with fairy-tales and myths? C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton have written extensively and beautifully on how these “faerie stories” prepared them for the gospel and for conversion (or perhaps the better term is “re-conversion) to Christianity. A great example is a chapter from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy titled “The Ethics of Elfland,” which, to my mind, can be assessed as one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written.


Chesterton saw the world differently than just about everyone else. He seemed to live in a state of inexhaustible wonder. It’s almost as if the scales had fallen from his eyes and he could see the heavenly realm co-mingling with the earthly. For him, the universe must have been like a string that vibrated with the paradox of Emmanuel, “God with us.” Chesterton wrote about Santa Claus for the Tablet of London. That piece confirms for me and my wife Cathy that, amidst all the mistakes we may have made as parents, forbidding our children and grandchildren to keep Santa Claus or baby Jesus within Christmas is certainly not one of them.


Chesterton did not consider Santa Claus a mere superfluous addition to the Christmas story. He considered it integral part of it, as a revelation of the very generous merciful nature of God. And this is what Chesterton wrote on Santa Claus: “What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation.  I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking.  I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it.  I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them.  I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”


Merry Christmas to All!



Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!


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