CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: John Dempster on how Matt Haig's book A Boy Called Christmas is infused with kindness and hope despite stirring some complaints from Christians on the absence of Jesus in the storyline
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I’ve just been reading a wonderful book, Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas, the movie version of which has just been released.
It’s an “origin story” for Santa Claus, a kids’ book seamlessly blending humour and profound emotion. An 11-year-old from long-ago Finland, Nikolas wants to “make everything right”.
After the peril of a snowy journey to Lapland, Nikolas helps the elves recover their zest for life, which has been drained away by negativism.
They said of one elf who turned back to the light: “Goodness has won in him.”
Ultimately Nikolas becomes the elves’ leader, “Father Christmas” and inspires them to choose light always and to bring the world an annual reminder of joy on Christmas morning.
Some Christians have complained that the story makes no mention of Jesus. That the movie implies this is the origin story not only of Santa Claus but of Christmas itself is disturbing.
But I was moved by the kindness, joy and above all the hope which pervades the book. Jesus may not be mentioned, but the spirit of Jesus is present. We are left in no doubt that the relentless quest for wealth is corrosive, and that “being good is better than being rich”.
Elves detest the word “impossible”, which for them is a swear. “An impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand.” Which reminds me of Jesus’ words: “With God all things are possible.”
The “magic” in Matt Haig's book is the ability to reflect in hope upon situations until a way forward becomes clear. This magic is not a power which Nikolas wields, but rather an openness to possibilities which may not on the face of it be logical or rational.
Isn’t this rather like prayer – not an exercise of power, but an openness to God’s possibilities? A Christian once said “When I pray, co-incidences happen.” Through our prayers at times the fabric of reality appears to be altered.
In such praying, Christians know a little of Nikolas’s “feeling of unbreakable joy. Hope where no hope could exist.”
Nikolas knows that “the world I come from, the world of humans is full of bad things”. Annual visits from Father Christmas can never heal this brokenness. If this were the Christmas origin story it would not satisfy.
Christmas has its origin in someone who shows us what God is like; who models for us a light-choosing lifestyle; who demonstrates the cost of overcoming darkness; who promises to take the whole of reality to a deeper level. Goodness will win in us, because goodness has won in him. We need not so much the “boy called Christmas” as the “baby called Jesus”.