Sunday, July 10, 2005

A man who loved Christmas

The question I dealt with yesterday about retirement is often linked with another question (sometimes stated, often not): If I ever stopped being Santa Claus, who could take my place?

Mind you, I am Santa only by the will and grace of God. The Lord could just as easily choose someone else to play my role.

When I look back at history, I see so many people who could play the role. Francis of Assisi, for example. There was a man who had the Christmas spirit. (Though that dear little man would have a hard time fitting in my suit!)

But If I had to pick just one person, it would be Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Ho! There’s a man who could fill my suit! In fact, they’d have to let it out!

But beyond his physical size, there was a man who truly loved Christmas.

He wrote essays about it. He cited the feast again and again in his works. He wrote poetry about it.

And he appreciated me. Rather, he appreciated what I represent.

In writing about the loss of a sense of faith in one essay he said, “Father Christmas was with us when the fairies departed; and please God he will still be with us when the gods return.”

Yes, in all modesty, I must admit that all the stories that have grown up around me help to keep alive the sense of wonder and magic, the belief in something that can’t be explained, even in a time when faith is treated as something embarrassing.

In one of his books he wrote, "Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens, so that the snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold.”

Perhaps that is part of the magic. Not my magic, of course, but the magic of belief.

As for those who don’t believe, he wrote in one essay, “Personally, of course, I believe in Santa Claus; but it is a season of forgiveness, and I will forgive others for not doing so.”

How like the man. That spirit was one reason why even the people he debated respected and loved him. That is part of what would have made him a good Santa.

We met a couple of time. In one essay he described one of our conversations, though, of course, he changed some things around to suit his purpose. He had us meet in a toy shop and had me lamenting the modern world. The conversation actually took place during a meal in a tavern. And I seem to recall some of the lamenting was on his part.

I remember fondly the first time I met him as an adult.

I was in his home delivering gifts (some items for his toy theater), when he walked into the room. I sank back into the shadows, and he did not see me. Even if I hadn’t sunk into the shadows, I’m not sure he would have seen me anyway. As usual, he was lost in thought.

He stopped in the middle of the room, and said loudly, questioningly, “Slipper.”

I looked at his feet. Sure enough, he had only one slipper on.

“Slipper,” he said again.

Then suddenly he walked over to a tall bookcase and reached up to the top.

He brought down a slipper, and a book that had been under it, propped open.

He looked at the book, reading a little from the open page. He chuckled, then walked out of the room, slipper and book in hand.

I reminded him of the moment years later. He did not remember it.

But he did remember the toy theater items I brought.

Yes, Chesterton would have made a fine Santa.

Of course, given his absent-minded ways, who knows what gifts would have ended up where. Why if he was bringing a book to someone, he might have just sat down to read it, and when the children rushed down to open their gifts on Christmas morning they might have found him still sitting there, reading, and laughing out loud.

Very Santa-like image, I’d say.


At 6:06 PM, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

Dear Santa,

Superb. I hereby invite you to come to next year's Conference of the American Chesterton Society and give us some more background on your long friendship with our dear Uncle Gilbert - and Aunt Frances! I am sure you know she wrote a very touching Christmas carol...

With gratitude for your perennial kindnesses....

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Lee Strong said...

Ho! Ho! Thank you. I will consider it. Any society that honors such a wonderful man and a true lover of Christmas is a society worthy of a visit!


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