December 20, 2021

Bags of Swag

Looking out for Father Christmas

The story goes that, if you behave well and write a kind, clear letter, Father Christmas will listen to your wishes and arrive at each and every home on Christmas Eve, sailing through the night skies on a sledge piled high with presents and pulled by reindeer. As well as large sacks of goodies, the other meaning of swag is of course garlands and ribbons in abundance and hopefully Father Christmas will find those too. We certainly have them absolutely everywhere at Highclere.

Being practical, children usually know what they want and are motivated when it is to their advantage. Pencil lines are carefully drawn across the paper to help keep the words level before the letter is sent up the chimney or, more often today, off to Lapland courtesy of the Post Office. It is a lovely thought that even in these commercial times, the world’s postal services still employ people to deal with children’s Christmas letters.

I suspect today that  Father Christmas also sometimes receives emails or WhatsApp messages although I have no idea how they might be addressed. They certainly have the advantage that they can be continually updated with new desires and changes of plans thus adding to the flurries of confusion of this time of year, whereas writing a letter takes time and thought and, once posted, that is it.

When my son was little, like other parents with small children, I knew it was always worthwhile helping with the process of Santa’s letter because some knowledge of the list was essential: children tend to remember and there needs to be some parity between the list and the reality of the Christmas stocking.

A window in Highclere Church



Of course, the whole idea of presents at Christmas stems from the visit of the shepherds and the three kings to the baby Jesus. It was the ultimate refugee tale: homeless parents, dreadful rulers and a legal requirement for “registration” and, in the midst of all these challenges, was the birth of their baby. The witnesses were humble shepherds,  whilst the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were fit for a king – wealth, worship and the final gift, myrrh  completing the cycle of life as it was used to anoint the body in death.

As we get older, gifts become more thoughtful than simple requests to Father Christmas. They may be much needed or practical items such as food, clothes or equipment, they may offer something to admire or learn from or eschew the physical altogether in favour of an “experience”. True gifting involves thought on the part of the person finding the gift as well as the consequential happiness and smiles on the part of the recipient and thus can be just as pleasurable for both parties. Then we have today’s focus on sustainability as well so all in all Father Christmas has quite a few challenges.

Irrespective of our religion, everyone likes presents and hopefully, by giving them to our children, we are also teaching them the joy and satisfaction of giving as well. Many of the themes that caused Mary,Joseph and Jesus pain and grief happen in exactly the same way today whilst the birth of a child is always a wonderful symbol of hope for the future. Whatever our circumstances in life, the little word hope, both for our own lives and for our wider society, is intrinsic to human beings and the most basic message of this time of year. With everything that is going on, it is reassuring to know that Christmas is here once again.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and healthy new year.