Advent Firesiders

Goodbye Father Christmas! (2018)

You would have thought that Christians would rejoice at the decline of the man in the red coat who has pushed Jesus out of the central place at Christmas; but if Saint Nick disappears, then there will only be presents and no mystery at all for the children.

To a certain extent, children have gone along with pretending to believe in Father Christmas for the singular purpose of acquiring yet more goods, frightened that scepticism might dampen parental purchasing ardour but in our lifetime belief in the man coming down the chimney has definitely regressed from six to three. The extent to which this represents a decline in credulity, a decline in the number of chimneys or an increase in the ownership of internet devices is surely the subject for a PhD rather than a gentle firesider like this.

This is all part of a general move away from the Western 20th Century position that children should be given space to be children. This, of course, was nonsense in the era of child labour but in the late 19th Century, prompted by the use of autobiographical accounts of childhood by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, and by the beginnings of child psychology, a special space for being a child was opened up but it is now being closed by intense competition in primary schools, aggravated by league tables and parental ambition. No wonder that children take refuge in their technology to get out of the way of adult oppression.

But part of that oppression is the re-injection of adult realism into early childhood. We are breeding a new generation of cynics, not sceptics and so it is only a matter of time before Father Christmas disappears.