Friday, December 17, 2021

A Christmas fantasy

Can Christmastime be far behind?
Or should I say that fantasy feeling of Christmas.  I grew up in what I call a secular Christian household.  That's why I used the term to describe what I see in the general Faith today. I often see on a grand scale in the modern Church what I experienced growing up.  That is, we were culturally Protestant Christians because of course we were. We weren't Buddhists, Jewish, certainly not Catholic and, as far as I know, weren't Druid.  Therefore Christian.  But more because of what we weren't than what we were. 

My parents were believers, both of them.  Though Dad seldom graced the doors of a church until much later in life.  Mom was baptized shortly after I was born, courtesy of a neighborhood Baptist pastor who bore an uncanny resemblance to Colonel Sanders.  She was following in the footsteps of her mother, who only recently before had entered the Faith as well. 

Nonetheless, despite my mom's throwing herself into church activities, and dragging me along to VBS here or Sunday School programs there, our household was more or less secular.  We didn't pray before meals.  We seldom referenced God unless it was to call down condemnation on the world's latest leap away from traditional values.  A manger scene at Christmas with some Wise Men ornaments, next to that old Children's Bible everyone had back then, was about it. 

And every Christmas, my mom would lament the day we stopped [Spoiler Alert] believing in Santa.  She used to say how the loss of that belief just took away the magic of the holiday.  Yeah.  She got much better in later years, and I'd like to think my conversion and subsequent headfirst dive into vocational ministry helped her along.  But that was what I heard every year once I figured things out - the real magic of Christmas was gone now that we discovered the truth behind Fred Astaire's counterculture version of the tale.

Perhaps that's why, after a few years of hearing that, I began to seek ways to embrace a more magical fantasy feel during the fall and Christmas months.  As early as middle school, I can recall being a little more open to the whole fantasy gig, especially once fall and winter holidays rolled around.  It didn't come easy.  Fantasy wasn't something that was big in my house.  Nor was it big in popular culture during my younger, formative years.  The most I had as a kid was B-sci fi movies on matinee television shows or schlock D-grade horror movies on the Friday night double feature with Fritz the Night Owl.  

But by middle school, my desire to supplant this 'lack of magic' with something couldn't have come at a more fortuitous time.  After all, it was what I call the Great Fantasy Renaissance that was kicked off by the cultural phenomenon that was Star Wars.  All of a sudden, fantasy and sci-fi was everywhere.  

A fine magical mystery story

Through no particular design, I just began to encounter or receive things that pointed me in that direction.  If I didn't receive them, I saw them.  Again, by the early 1980s - my middle school and early high school years - fantasy and science fiction were everywhere you looked.  Toys, games, movies, books, television shows - you name it.  

In just a few years, I received Space Invaders for Atari, as well as Atari's Adventure game.  Without asking, my parents bought me the Dark Tower board game for my birthday.  Of course there was still Star Wars, even if by the early 1980s the 'phenomenon' was finally beginning to wane.  Though it was replaced by some pretty high profile movies of the genre that would have been unthinkable a half dozen years earlier.  Movies like Conan the Barbarian, Dragonslayer, E.T., Excalibur.  There were arcade games aplenty that centered on these themes.  Dragon's Lair, Gauntlet and Crossbow were just a few that I played through the mid 1980s.  

Of course in those days, Dungeons and Dragons was the big fad and hadn't yet been confined to the ghettoes by the media.  Once in my sophomore year, at around Christmas time, I went to a gaming group that met in the basement of our First Federal Bank.  I went to peddle an idea I had for a WWII version of RISK.  While there, I saw D&D (and other similar games) played for the first time, which is probably why I didn't play it much.  Most of what I saw was a bunch of guys fighting and arguing.  I often wondered if it was because the game didn't have a stigma yet.  There were as many jocks and varsity lettermen as there were geeks and dropouts.  Perhaps it was the clash of culture between guys who normally wouldn't be caught dead with each other in school that led to the bickering. 

I dunno.  I just know that when I went it was around Christmas, as it happened to be with so many of the other offerings I've mentioned.  The arcade games were often played in or around Christmas break, when we went to other cities that had such arcade offerings in shopping centers our little town lacked.  The gifts I received, such as the Monster Manual I mentioned here, or Space Invaders, or Dark Tower, were for my birthday (December) or Christmas.  It was the mid 1980s also that my best friend bequeathed me his Christmas gift of Time Life's Enchanted World series.  Or at least the first few books he received. 

In short, by design or chance or both, I found myself swarmed by so many things that were of the sci-fi or fantasy, especially fantasy, genre, even as I was seeking out the same.  And almost always these occured some time around the holidays.  It wasn't just that I was trying to replace some lost sense of magic that my mom talked about.  Some of it was the timing.  It was just part of the cultural fads of the day.  My parents were likely just buying things they saw advertised, and friends were jumping on the latest bandwagon as kids will do. 

But it all conspired to leave imprinted in my mind an odd connection between fantasy and the fantastical at Christmas, even though I never considered myself a big fan of the genre.  It became a connection that stayed through my teen and young adult years, even before I became a Christian after college.  The hidden desire to replace that "magic" that my mom talked about bore fruit, whether I imagined it would or not.  Even if the ways in which it was sated were as much chance or cultural coincidence as anything.  Perhaps. 

Sometimes I think that inadvertent connection between the fantasy, the magical, and the mystical story of Christmas itself managed to keep me, for want of a better word, rooted.  In my most secular days in college, when I strove against logic to be an agnostic or even, dare I say, a full fledged atheist, I always found myself drawn back around Christmastime.  At the time it was likely because of this saturation of 'fantasy magical' that happened to enter my life at different Christmas signposts.  But it was enough for me to dispense with my 'STEM as Alpha and Omega' worldview I was desperately trying to cultivate. A development that, in hindsight, made it a bit easier to take the first step over Jordan once the time came. 

Fantasy and Christmas began to make sense


  1. The older I get, the more I'm convinced that Santa Claus is real. Every Christmas when one person gives a gift to another - not because we have to, but because we want to - because of a generous heart - we all make Santa just a little bit more real.

    (If you want to be more pedantic or scholarly about it, then Santa is a fine anthropomorphism of the community spirit. The neighbors are always watching you, and if you're good and nice to all of them, then they'll like to buy gifts for you.)

    1. I never got into the Santa Clause thing with the boys. I didn't tell them there was no such thing, I simply avoided it altogether. If they asked me direct questions, I dodged or deflected, allowing them to work things out on their own. That way I was able to remind them, once they figured things out, that I never said there was a Santa Clause, did I? To which they admitted I was correct. I never did say one way or another.

      But what you say is how I explained it, allowing info about the real St. Nick. I said Santa was in some ways a symbol for the best of our worldly efforts to be what God wants us to be. I pointed out that the World had said there was such a person, but even when the world get things right - like being generous is good - it often wraps it up in things that are wrong (and often for reasons more beneficial to the world than those we are supposed to be generous to).

      In a real big dose of strange irony, the R/B special Here Comes Santa Clause said it best, that when we do act like Santa, give generously of ourselves, we're just what God is wanting from us. That's how I handled it at least.

  2. Speaking of magical Christmas.


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